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Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Fred Hoiberg watching the action on the court against the Nevada Wolf Pack
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Huskers Add Final Puzzle Pieces During Late Signing Window

April 22, 2021

Back in November, Nebraska signed a top-25 recruiting class including the program’s first 5-star commit. That was only the beginning, however. Over the last week, Fred Hoiberg and his staff have put the finishing touches on that 2021 class as the late signing window opened.

Nebraska has added one more recruit, two transfers and a walk-on with a familiar name to its class.

The new high school recruit is Oleg Kojenets, a 7-foot center from Lithuania who committed to Nebraska on April 5. With Yvan Ouedraogo transferring to Grand Canyon, Nebraska needed more depth at center, and Hoiberg liked the skill set Kojenets displayed, even if he’s got some work to do from a strength and conditioning standpoint. He’l battle with second-year freshman Eduardo Andre — who was in a very similar situation when he joined the program a year ago — for center minutes behind veteran Derrick Walker.

“What we do and the way I’ve always approached it is the guys will come in and compete and go out there and show me in practice who deserves to be on the floor and who deserves minutes,” Hoiberg said. “I anticipate Oleg coming in and competing for that spot. Strength is always a big thing for all freshmen that they have to improve on. When he gets here in the summer, we’ll have an opportunity to start working on his body right away. But to add a 7-footer that’s got a good skill set, it should be a good long-term addition to our program.”

The first transfer who picked Nebraska was C.J. Wilcher, a sharpshooting guard from New Jersey who spent his freshman year at Xavier. He announced his commitment to Nebraska on March 26.

“C.J., a guy that had really good, quality minutes when he got the opportunity at Xavier this last season,” Hoiberg said. “The thing that stands out about C.J. is his perimeter shooting, and that’s certainly an area where we need to improve, we need to get better, and he’ll immediately help us in that area as well as the other guys that we signed in the fall. So I’m excited about that aspect of our team hopefully being a more consistent 3-point shooting group and obviously from the free-throw line where we need to improve in a big way.

“But he’s not just a shooter, he’s got a good strong body, should have versatility on the defensive end. He’s a guy that can put the ball on the floor and as I said, a good, strong body to finish in the paint. So I think we’re getting a very complete player in C.J. Wilcher.”

The second transfer was a later addition as former DePaul wing Keon Edwards did not announce his commitment to Nebraska until after Hoiberg spoke with the media.

“Keon was one of the top 50 players in this year’s class before he enrolled at DePaul, and that experience will help make a quicker adjustment than a typical freshman,” Hoiberg said in a release. “His skill set blends well with our roster, as he is a three-level scorer who can create his own shot and moves well without the ball. We wanted to add more size, shooting and athleticism on the wing to our roster, and I think that is an area we have addressed.”

Signing day is typically for the players while coaches like Hoiberg wait in their office for the letters of intent to come through. This year’s late signing period was a little different, however, as Hoiberg got a chance to take part in a signing ceremony himself as his son, Sam, signed his paperwork to walk on at Nebraska.

“It was really cool to be there, be a part of that, sitting there on signing day at his high school,” Hoiberg said. “Having the opportunity to have Sam a part of our program, I think he’ll be a great asset to us. He’s going to be a walk-on for us. I know he’s going to bring everything you need to in that role on a daily basis. He’s going to be a great teammate, he’s an awesome kid, he’s going to come in and work extremely hard, he’s going to push the guys that are going to be out there on the floor and whatever role is asked of him I know he’ll go out and do to the best of his ability.

“It’s exciting. His parents, especially for Mom, I think it will help ease the empty nest that we would have had if Sam had gone away to college, which he had some pretty intriguing opportunities. But at the end of the day, he wanted to stay home and he wanted to play here. He’s really fallen in love with this community, as our entire family has. We love it here and Sam’s excited to be a part of our program and we’re certainly excited to have him.”

Add Kojenets, Wilcher, Edwards and even Sam Hoiberg to the previous signings in 5-star bucket-getter Bryce McGowens, JUCO sniper Keisei Tominaga and skilled stretch-big Wilhelm Breidenbach and Hoiberg has added a group that, at least on paper, brings some of the things the team was missing last year, 3-point shooting first and foremost among them.

“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements to our roster with the recruiting class we’re bringing in to this point, with the additions we’ve made to our roster,” Hoiberg said. “We need to shoot the ball better, and I think we have addressed a lot of that with the players we have coming in. You see what Keisei’s doing right now with what he has done to help Ranger get into the national tournament … You look at, obviously, Bryce McGowens, a guy that can score it from all over the floor, and Wilhelm, a guy that can stretch it and shoot it from a frontline position. Those guys are so important to have on your team, to be able to shoot and get bigs away from the basket to open up driving lanes. Then with CJ and with Oleg, guys that can come in and knock down shots as well. So I think we made huge strides in that area.”

After the latest recruiting rankings update, Nebraska now has the No. 14 recruiting class in the country, good for third in the Big Ten. Not bad for a team coming off its second straight seven-win season.

The Huskers still have one open scholarship with Kobe Webster and Trevor Lakes not counting towards the 13-scholarship limit, and while Hoiberg said his staff is always looking for ways to improve the roster, he said he’d also consider keeping the leftover scholarship in his back pocket to use in case a mid-year transfers shows interest in the Huskers.

“As of right now with what we have with Kobe using his extra year and then Trevor not counting as well, so technically we could have 15 on the roster which is a lot,” Hoiberg said. “That’s a lot of guys. We’ll see how it plays out and if we keep one open and see where it goes, that is something that we absolutely are talking about.”

Hoiberg, Abdelmassih and the staff have been busy over the past year looking to fill holes and upgrade talent, and now Nebraska looks poised to head into the offseason two- or three-deep at every position as all their efforts have led to this special 2021 class.

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