The Fred Hoiberg Huskers, version 3.0, will take the court for the first time this coming week as Nebraska opens the season with a pair of exhibition games.
To get you ready for the season, Hail Varsity is going position group by position group through the roster to introduce you to the 2021-22 Cornhuskers. We’ve already covered the lead ball-handlers and the wings.
Next up: the forwards.
Lat Mayen (JR, 6-foot-9, 217 pounds)
2020-21 stats: 8.6 PPG, 39.6% FG (34.8% 3FG), 77.8% FT, 4.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.5 TPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 25.6 MPG
The junior college transfer was one of just two Huskers to start all 27 games last year and he led the team in 3-pointers (48) while connecting at a 34.8% clip. Mayen opened the season as a small-ball five while Derrick Walker served his suspension before sliding over to his natural power forward spot once Walker returned.
“A guy you just know what you’re going to get from and he’s always in the right spot defensively, he’s always in his gap, plays with great effort,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously a guy that can make shots at a high level, and he had several games last year where he kept us in and also games where he stretched a lead, especially when we figured it out late in the year last year. So just a big part of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play.”
Mayen missed most of the team’s summer workouts because of a back injury, but Hoiberg isn’t worried about the veteran’s status moving forward. He hasn’t missed a day since preseason practices began. Mayen said taking time off was some of the best advice he’s gotten, even if it was difficult to do because the gym is where he goes to get away from everything else.
“It helped a lot, just being able to sit back a little bit, watch the guys over the summer and really just focus on my weaknesses, and that was to obviously get get stronger, put on more mass, and just focus for real,” Mayen said. “Just sitting out and watching everybody play and watching everything on the side, you kind of see it a little different so that definitely helped me a lot.”
Mayen was a bit up-and-down last season, cracking double figures 10 times and scoring six or less 10 times. He had 15 games with multiple 3-pointers, but went 0-for seven times. Finding more consistency will be key for Mayen if the Huskers want to take a big step forward this season.
“What I’ve been working on lately is being more aggressive for real,” Mayen said back in July. “I feel like last season I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been. Definitely more aggressive, put the ball down some more and just keep shooting the ball, keeping that confidence to shoot the ball every time. Definitely being more aggressive, being more explosive, getting stronger.”
Mayen showed what he was capable of last season, shooting 5-of-9 from deep against Indiana, 5-of-7 against Rutgers (part of a career-high 25-point performance) and 4-of-8 against Iowa. He has high aspirations this season, and thinks the addition of more shooters around him that defenses have to respect will help him achieve his goals.
“I want to shoot at a high clip,” Mayen said. “I want to lead the Big Ten in 3-point percentage. That’s one of my short-term goals this season.”
Wilhelm Breidenbach (FR, 6’10”, 227 pounds)
Bryce McGowens is the star of Nebraska’s highly-touted 2021 recruiting class, but he isn’t the only member of the class who should make an immediate impact. Wilhelm Breidenbach, the stretch big out of Mater Dei in California, is already making a strong push for playing time.
“He’s tough, man,” Mayen said about the freshman. “He’s going to come in and play great, a lot of minutes for us. He’s going to impact the game off the jump. He can almost do everything, for real. Coach is letting him play outside, inside, he can pop and shoot, he can drive and put the ball on the ground, he’s got a turn-around jump shot, he can do a lot a lot of things, he can pass. But Wil, he’s one of the main guys that is going to come in and make a big impact.”
Breidenbach saw his senior season end prematurely by a knee injury and took about four months to recover and get cleared, but he said he’s already put on some good weight since he arrived on campus and is feeling more powerful and better conditioned. He’s even grown an inch, in part because of improved posture resulting from his strength and conditioning work.
“Obviously, it’s a little different as far as the change of pace,” Breidenbach said about playing college ball. “It’s a more up-tempo game, but I’ve adjusted to that well, kind of battling guys bigger and stronger than me, being able to adjust to that. Also another thing: getting off my shot off quicker, just kind of making a decision, getting my shot off quicker. Everybody’s a lot longer.”
Breidenbach wasn’t prolific shooter in high school, but he certainly showed the ability to step out and hit shots and that was part of what caught the Nebraska coaches’ attention, in addition to his ability to run the floor, dribble and pass. His skill set and mobility — coupled with the strength he’s added since getting to campus — give him the flexibility to play either the four or the five this season.
During a recent stretch of preseason practice, veteran Derrick Walker missed time with a minor illness, and Hoiberg decided to give Breidenbach some run with the starters in Walker’s place.
“He was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” Hoiberg said. “A guy can play multiple positions on the floor, he can play both frontcourt spots. The thing about Wilhelm, you’re never going to have to worry about what he gives you. He plays with incredible effort and intensity. He gets hacked, fouled, but they don’t call it and he is sprinting back the other way and getting ready to defend on the other end. Normally with younger players you have to teach them through those moments, but Wilhelm is just one of those guys that comes in and you know what you’re going to get from him.
“A guy that can certainly stretch the floor, move the big away from the basket and really compete on the other end. He’s not afraid to get dirty in there and go and grind it out against bigger, stronger, more athletic players. But his makeup is what makes him special and his very unique skill set for guy that 6-foot-10 that can make shots and can pass and make plays like he can.”
Breidenbach knows that he’ll have to match up with the like of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (7-foot, 285 pounds), Purdue’s Zach Edey (7-foot-4, 295 pounds) and Trevion Williams (6-foot-10, 265 pounds) and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson (7-foot-1, 255 pounds) if he plays the five, and he’s tried to absorb as much knowledge as he can from Walker during practice to prepare for it.
At the five, he’ll be competing with Eduardo Andre and Oleg Kojenets for playing time behind Walker. At the four, he would compete with Mayen, Lakes and potentially Keon Edwards for minutes. Whatever position he ends up playing primarily, Breidenbach is looking to do whatever he can to help the team win.
“I’ll take whatever opportunity I can get,” Breidenbach said. “Whatever I need to do to get on the floor and help the team win is what I’ll do. I’ve said that from the beginning and that hasn’t changed.”
Trevor Lakes (SR, 6’8”, 220 pounds)
2020-21 stats: 3.2 PPG, 37.5% FG (33.3% 3FG), 75.0% FT, 1.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.1 TPG, 9.6 MPG, 14 games
Lakes might be somewhat of a forgotten man for some fans between the returning starters and highly-touted newcomers, but he stole the show at Nebraska’s pro day and gives Hoiberg yet another option that can really shoot the ball.
Lakes transferred to Nebraska last season after a standout three-year career at Division II University of Indianapolis and planned to sit out the season as a redshirt to focus on building up his body and adjusting to high-major basketball.
However, with last season not counting toward eligibility and with the NCAA more freely granting waivers for transfers to play right away, Lakes and Hoiberg decided midseason to change course.
Lakes made a good first impression against Doane, shooting 4-of-5 from deep in a 12-point, six-rebound performance. However, he wasn’t able to find the same level of success against Division I opponents as he shot 8-of-31 (25.8%) from 3 the rest of the way.
Lakes played sparingly for much of the Big Ten season (though he did start against Minnesota) but entered the rotation down the stretch, logging double-digit minutes in Nebraska’s last four games.
With his soft touch and quick release, Lakes provides Hoiberg with a stretch-four option off the bench. During Nebraska’s pro day, he wasn’t on either of the first two teams when Nebraska split into groups of five for part of the practice. However, Hoiberg said he has more than 10 players he could conceivably play this season, and Lakes seems to be among them.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.