Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2022-23 Nebraska Basketball Roster Review: Big Men

October 21, 2022

Nebraska fans will get their first look at the 2022-23 Cornhuskers on Sunday afternoon as the team takes on Chadron State in its first exhibition game.

Fred Hoiberg added another large group of newcomers to a small core of returning impact players, and the offseason points of emphasis were all about defense, rebounding and toughness. The plan is for this team to look very different than the one fans watched in 2021-22.

To get you ready for what you’re going to see at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, we’re going through the roster, player by player, and we’re splitting it into three groups, starting with the big guys in the middle.

No. 13 Derrick Walker (senior, 6-foot-9, 245 pounds)

2021-22 stats: 9.5 PPG, 68.3% FG, 72.6% FT, 6.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 26.2 MPG

After a breakout season, Walker opted to take advantage of his extra season of eligibility to return for one more run with Hoiberg and the Huskers. He’s the only player who has been in the program since Hoiberg’s first season in Lincoln.

He set the program record for field goal percentage last season, converting close to 70% of his shots from the field, and he also made massive strides at the free-throw line. Walker emerged as one of the most efficient players in the country primarily as a post-up and pick-and-roll threat.

“I never thought that I’d be the caliber of player that I am today,” Walker said. “I never thought I’d have the responsibility I have today as well. I would just chalk it up to being a blessing … I just never expected me to be one of the main focal points of a team. I credit that to the work that I’ve put in over the years.”

Hoiberg adjusted his offense mid-year last season to play through Walker more as both a scorer and passer because of the big man’s effectiveness, and the plan is to keep that going this season.

One of three super seniors on the roster, Walker will turn 25 a couple days after the season opener. Hoiberg will rely on him once again for leadership on a fairly young roster overall.

No. 32 Wilhelm Breidenbach (sophomore, 6-foot-10, 231 pounds)

2021-22 stats: 3.5 PPG, 35.9% FG (15% 3FG), 50% FT, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.7 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 15.7 MPG (10 games)

Hoiberg was high Breidenbach’s skill set and IQ coming out of Mater Dei, and he beat out Eduardo Andre for the opening-day back-up center role before sliding into the four spot before long. However, he never really got a chance to find his footing at the Division I level before a knee injury ended his rookie campaign.

Nebraska forward Wilhelm Breidenbach (32) dribbles past a Michigan defender. Photo by Eric Francis.

Now, Breidenbach is healthy and feeling good, and Hoiberg named him the starting power forward next to Walker. 

“I love Wilhelm,” Walker said. “I love playing with Wilhelm, and I tell him that all the time. Even last year when he went down, I told him I was mad at him even though it wasn’t his fault. I love Wil. He’s a hard-working player. He’s going to rebound, he’s going to make shots, he just plays the game the right way. He does foul, but I love it; he’s being aggressive. I love playing with Wil, especially with his size. He’s so smart. His ability to just be a team player, he’s going hard and you know his heart is in the right place.”

Hoiberg likes Breidenbach’s passing and decision-making and will look to give him some of the same opportunities to initiate offense that Walker gets. The key will be the jumper. If the 3-ball falls for him this season at a respectable rate, he has a chance to play a big role in a frontcourt otherwise filled with guys who do most of their damage around the rim.

“I feel good about a couple of frontcourt guys initiating offense with Derrick being one of them and also with Wilhelm,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve put some responsibility on those guys as well, especially when we’re getting pressured, which we’re going to see some of that early in the season with some of the teams that we’re playing.”

That floor spacing will be key on offense, but to make that frontcourt pairing work on defense, Breidenbach will have to show he can stay in front of opposing forwards (and do so without fouling).

No. 15 Blaise Keita (sophomore, 6-foot-11, 241 pounds)

2021-22 stats (at Coffeyville Community College): 12.8 PPG, 51.8% FG, 65.1% FT, 9.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.5 PG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 31.2 MPG (18 games)

Nebraska center Blaise Keita (15) dribbles the ball during a preseason practice. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Keita was considered one of the top players in the junior college ranks after two seasons at Coffeyville Community College (only one of which counted toward his eligibility). He gives the Huskers a center with legitimate Bg Ten size and should form a strong one-two punch in the middle with Walker.

Keita did the majority of his work in the post or in the dunker spot for the Ravens while also showing a decent shooting touch out to 15 feet.

Hoiberg expects a transition period from Keita as he adjusts to the Division I level, as we saw with Keisei Tominaga last season, but so far the big fella from Mali appears to be ahead of schedule. 

“Blaise has picked things up so quickly,” Hoiberg said. “I knew I liked Blaise; I didn’t know he was going to be as good as he is as fast as he has. Just physicality, rebounding, taking charges, he’s just done a little bit of everything for this group, screening and that ability to score it in the paint.”

Keita isn’t a big-time shot blocker, but he led the Huskers in charges taken during preseason practices and showed the ability at Coffeyville to hold his own in the post. 

No. 33 Oleg Kojenets (redshirt freshman, 7-foot, 232 pounds)

The Lithuanian 7-footer redshirted last season during his first year at Nebraska. He’s a project the coaches will likely continue developing behind Walker and Keita at the center spot.

Having a player with Kojenets’ size on the practice squad will likely come in handy this season as the Huskers prepare to navigate the big-heavy Big Ten this season.

No. 35 Henry Burt (freshman, 6-foot-4, 216 pounds)

Burt joined the Huskers as a walk-on after a breakout senior season at Elkhorn South, continuing the tradition of having a Storm alumnus walking on in Lincoln. He follows Johnny Trueblood, Justin Costello and Jace Piatkowski.

He’s a physical forward with a scoring mindset who is undersized for the Division I level but plays hard.

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