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.
Next up: the off-guards and wings.
Bryce McGowens (FR, 6’7”, 179 pounds)
As the first 5-star recruit to sign with Nebraska out of high school, Bryce McGowens was the headliner of the best recruiting class in school history (at least since the birth of the recruiting websites). Expect to see him in the starting lineup and playing a key role for the Huskers from day one.
What makes him so special?
“First of all, it’s his God-given talent,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said at Big Ten Media Days. “I’ve talked about this in the past, Trey and Bryce have unbelievable parents that raised them the right way. What makes Bryce unique as a basketball player is he’s very fluid on the floor, he’s got a great stroke, he’s got unlimited range and his athleticism is something that sets him apart from a lot of players. Great length, he’s got a good wingspan.
“At the same time, we all need to understand there is a learning curve for all kids that come in … as far as when you come into college and make that jump, you’re going to have highs and lows ups and downs. That’s a great thing about having Trey and some older leaders that have been through it, they can help navigate our freshmen through those tough times. But as far as from a talent perspective and some of the things Bryce does, it just wows you, at times, what he does out there on the floor and how we can take over portions of a practice.”
McGowens averaged over 25 points per game and shot better than 41% from 3 during his sophomore and junior seasons at Wren High School in South Carolina before transferring to Legacy Early College as a senior to face a tougher level of competition. He averaged 21.6 points and shot 34.4% from deep as a senior for a team that featured just one other double-digit scorer and played some of the top high school teams in the country.
McGowens is a multi-talented player with the length and athleticism to get to the rim and the touch to shoot from well beyond the 3-point line. He said he’s developed into a more well-rounded player as a whole in the handful of months he’s been on campus.
“I would say playmaking ability and IQ for the game,” McGowens said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot of new schemes, how to move without the ball, play with the ball in my hands and defensively, different rotations and spots to be on the floor.”
A consensus top-30 recruit, fans might want to enjoy him now as a one-and-done season is certainly on the table. He’s already showing up int he first round of early 2021 NBA mock drafts.
Keisei Tominaga (SO, 6’2”, 177 pounds)
2020-21 stats (at Ranger College): 16.3 PPG, 51.0% FG (48.7% 3FG), 88.3% FT, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 TPG, 1.0 SPG,
Nebraska fans have only gotten a brief glimpse of the junior college transfer from Japan at the Opening Night with Husker Hoops event, but he already appears well on his way towards cementing fan favorite status with his lightning-quick release.
“Man, I haven’t seen a shooter like Keisei, ever,” Keon Edwards told Hail Varsity. “His shooting talent is like no other. Anytime he has an open look, we get him the ball and it’s basically like you don’t even need to go rebound, you can just turn around. You know it’s going in. And he’s impressed me with his ability to get the shot off, I didn’t know he could do that. But yeah, his shot is different.”
In his two seasons of junior college ball at Ranger College in Texas, the 6-foot-2 guard shot 48% from 3 on 7.1 attempts per game, including 48.7% last season.
“Some of the things that Keisei does, you just can’t believe your eyes,” freshman walk-on Sam Hoiberg said. “You hear that he’s this amazing shooter, but you really don’t know until you actually get to see it when you watch him. I mean, even guarding him, you just have to be aware of him at all times. He can just pull it from anywhere and just get it off so quickly. But he’s definitely bringing a really good offensive piece to our team.”
C.J. Wilcher (FR, 6’5”, 221 pounds)
2020-21 stats (at Xavier): 3.3 PPG, 40.0% FG (35.0% 3FG), 100% FT, 1.1 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 10 MPG, 10 games
One of two transfers from the Big East to join the program this cycle, teammates and coaches have spoken highly of the sharp-shooting guard who spent his first year at Xavier. Hoiberg said the biggest upgrade he made to his roster this season was in the shooting department, and Wilcher is a part of that.
“The pace and space — I shoot the ball, and having space is part of how the game is played now and we have to have guys who shoot the ball,” Wilcher said. “I feel like I fit pretty well into the system.”
Wilcher shot 10-of-29 (35%) from 3 in limited playing time as a freshman for the Musketeers. That would have been good for fourth-best on Nebraska’s roster last season, and Nebraska believes he has the potential for much more than that.
At 6-foot-5 with a sturdy frame, Wilcher provides more size and versatility than Nebraska’s other backcourt snipers in Webster and Tominaga. He’s not the fleetest of foot but is strong enough to be physical on the defensive end and can finish at the rim with contact.
Keon Edwards (FR, 6’7”, 204 pounds)
2020-21 stats (at DePaul): 1.8 PPG, 33.3% FG (33.3% 3FG), 100% FT, 0.8 RPG, 0.2 TPG, 7.8 MPG, 5 games
The other Big East transfer is Keon Edwards, who came to Nebraska after spending one season at DePaul. Edwards was originally a consensus top-100 recruit in the 2021 class before reclassifying to 2020 and joining the Blue Demons shortly before the beginning of the season. He only played in five games but took advantage of the year to work on his game and body.
“I see that as a grind year,” Edwards said. “I was basically put through an offseason in the middle of the season. That was a grind year for me. I graduated early and went to college because I knew I would get the year back with the COVID situation. I used that as an opportunity to get bigger and stronger, and I definitely did. I came in at 185 and now weigh around 200, 204. I definitely got what I needed out of that situation and it helped me improve my game.”
Edwards shot 1-of-3 from deep in the 39 minutes he was on the court for DePaul last season but has drawn praise from his teammates for his shooting prowess. He was not able to participate in Nebraska’s pro day earlier this month but had previously broken down his own strengths and shared where he’s hoping to make strides this season.
“I definitely want to improve on playmaking, finding my teammates, being a better teammate, just making sure I communicate at all times,” Edwards said. “Things that I feel like I’m good at as of now are definitely shooting, I’m a knockdown shooter, and then athleticism. Its weird because it depends on the day with me, if my knees hurt or not. If they feel good, then I’m pretty athletic and I can get up on that rim.”
Edwards said he can play two through four, but prefers to slot in on the wing. With Webster, Tominaga, Wilcher and Edwards, Hoiberg has some serious firepower he can bring off the bench and mix in with the returning core, but he’ll have some tough choices to make as it will be difficult to get all of them significant playing time.
Walk-ons: Jace Piatkowski (FR, 6’3”, 177 pounds), Chris McGraw (SO, 6’, 176 pounds) and Jackson Cronin (FR, 6’1”, 187 pounds)
Piatkowski, the son of Nebrasketball legend Eric Piatkowski, can be considered a veteran on the team as he’s heading into his third season in the program. After redshirting his first season, Piatkowski made his debut against McNeese State last season, burying a 3-pointer in front of the Nebraska bench for his first career basket.
McGraw sat out last season after transferring from Division III Otterbein College. He began his college career as a walk-on at Ohio following a postgrad year at Hargrave Military Academy, where he played alongside Trey McGowens.
Cronin joined the team as a walk-on after a standout career at Great Neck North High School in New York.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.