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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2022-23 Nebraska Basketball Roster Review: Wings

October 22, 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. After starting with the big guys, we’re moving on to the wings and off-ball guards.

No. 0 C.J. Wilcher (sophomore, 6-foot-5, 208 pounds)

2021-22 stats: 8.1 PPG, 46.2% FG (40.6% 3FG), 62.9% FT, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 24.6 MPG

Wilcher turned in a quality first season in Lincoln after transferring in from Lincoln, serving as the team’s sixth man and top perimeter marksman. He scored in double figures 13 times and had 16 outings with multiple 3-pointers.

Now, Wilcher enters the season as a starter on the wing, and Nebraska will need even more from him if the Huskers want to be successful. To make that happen, he transformed his body during the offseason. 

C.J. Wilcher shoots a jump shot during basketball practice. Photo by John S. Peterson.

“It started with his body and his commitment to taking care of himself, and he dropped 15 pounds,” Hoiberg said. “That’s where it started for C.J. — he addressed it, he knew he had to get better with it and he did it, he accomplished it. You look at his last year, he had a good year. He shot 41% from 3; averaged, I think, almost nine points. And especially the way he finished, he was a 50% 3-point shooter over the last couple of months of our season. His biggest thing was working on his body and being able to play more sustained minutes and playing longer stretches because of what he did from a physicality standpoint. So, CJ has been awesome. He’s worked on a lot on a lot of things, his body probably being the biggest thing.”

Last season, Wilcher struggled to stay in front of opposing guards because of his lack of lateral quickness, and after Wilhelm Breidenbach went down for the season Hoiberg had him playing. A lot of back-up four, trying to use his bigger frame to hold his own against taller players. Nebraska has more depth inside this season, so slimming down to get the most out of his athleticism was important for Wilcher this offseason.

“He completely changed his approach to nutrition,” Hoiberg said. “Not that he just ate crap all day last year, but he really watches everything he puts into his body. All of our guys check in daily with our nutritionist on every meal they have, and C.J. really bought into that. And again, he knew he needed to change if he wanted to take his game to the next level and that’s been very impressive with what he’s done with his body, and that’s going to take care of a lot of the other things that the needed to work on.”

Wilcher himself said the changes he made this offseason weren’t just physical. He was somewhat limited last season, doing the majority of his damage in catch-and-shoot situations, and he feels more confident in his all-around game heading into the year.

“I think the mental aspect was the biggest thing, just in terms of my approach and being confident,” Wilcher said. “I think now I’m just more of a read-and-react type of player. If somebody runs me off the line, I make a play; they don’t run me off the line, I shoot it. It’s more so like quick instincts and not second-guessing myself and just playing my game, honestly.”

No. 4 Juwan Gary (junior, 6-foot-6, 215 pounds)

2021-22 stats: 6.5 PPG, 51.4% FG (22% 3FG), 61.1% FT, 3.4 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 15.6 MPG

The same word kept coming up any time someone in the program talked about Gary throughout the preseason: dog.

Juwan Gary makes a layup during practice. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Though he wasn’t a big-time scorer, he carved out a rotation role on an NCAA Tournament team with the Crimson Tide last season, starting 16 of his 29 games. Now he brings that experience in a winning program with him to Lincoln.

At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds with limited range, Gary’s best fit will probably be as an undersized four for Nebraska. He’s physical, he crashes the offensive glass hard and he competes on defense.

“Juwan just kind of brings dog mentality to our group,” Sam Griesel said. “It’s something that we all feed off of. We’ve had a few scrimmages now and he really gets under people’s skin. Offensive rebounding is huge and that really kind of demoralizes an opponent in a lot of situations. So he’s just going to be that dog for us that every team that wants to be successful needs.”

While he struggles to hit shots from the 3-point line, Gary goes hard to the rim and will provide a finishing threat primarily as a cutter or in the open floor. He’s almost a polar opposite player to Breidenbach, who Hoiberg said will open the season as the starting power forward. That duo provides Nebraska the flexibility to go big or small as the situation calls for it. 

No. 30 Keisei Tominaga (junior, 6-foot-2, 175 pounds)

2021-22 stats: 5.7 PPG, 37.3% FG (33% 3FG), 84.2% FT, 1.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 16.5 MPG

Tominaga was arguably the best 3-point shooter in junior college during his two seasons at Ranger, and he showed flashes of that during his first season in Lincoln. He filled in as a starter for a big chunk of the time Trey McGowens missed with 11 starts, but he also logged two DNP-CDs and saw his playing time diminished in the second half of the season.

Keisei Tominaga (30) celebrates making a layup against the South Dakota Coyotes. Photo by John S. Peterson.

He scored in double figures seven times including back-to-back performances with 23 points (5-of-6 from 3) and 16 points (5-of-11 from 3), but he also had games where he went 3-for-11 and 2-for-10 from deep. 

“It’s such an adjustment, and I think you saw some of that with Keisei last year,” Hoiberg said. “… I think having a year under his belt now and having the type of summer that he did where he led the Japanese national team in scoring will help him immensely.”

Better shot selection could help him find more consistency as well. His 3-point percentage last season doesn’t reflect his true shooting prowess because of the degree of difficulty on a large number of his attempts. He’s not getting any bigger or more athletic, but perhaps another offseason in the program has helped him learn how to fit in and find where his shots are going to come from in the natural flow of the offense.

Tominaga will be competing for minutes on the wing once again and could be called on if Hoiberg feels like he needs to get more shooting on the court to create space for guys like Sam Griesel and Derrick Walker.

No. 12 Denim Dawson (redshirt freshman, 6-foot-6, 193 pounds)

Dawson has a leg up on his fellow class of 2022 commits as he enrolled at the semester break last season and redshirted. That provided him an opportunity to get a head start on learning the system and to spend a lot of time developing his body and his skill set with the coaches outside of games.

Denim Dawson makes a layup during practice. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Like Gary, Dawson provides athleticism and a defense-first mentality. Hoiberg brought him up unprompted when talking about what his rotation might look like during Big Ten Media Days.

“One guy I don’t talk enough about is Denim,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a guy that every time he laces them up, you know what you’re getting out of him. He’s going to go compete, he’s going to dive on the floor, he’s going to guard. So you’re getting a guy that’s been in our system. It was very important for him to get here at semester because I think he learned a lot last year in sitting out and using his redshirt year.”

Hoiberg mentioned Dawson again during his press conference on Thursday, throwing him into the same bucket as Gary and Blaise Keita in terms of guys who will provide size and physicality off the bench as this team puts more emphasis on the defensive end of the floor. That could indicate that Dawson has already earned a spot in the rotation.

No. 10 Jamarques Lawrence (freshman, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds)

Whereas Dawson brings a lot of the same things as Gary, Lawrence likely compares most closely to Tominaga in terms of a potential role. He played for a quality high school program last season in Roselle Catholic in New Jersey and finished his prep career strong.

At Nebraska, his jump shot will likely be his best path to playing time as a true freshman. 

“Jamarques is a kid that can really get it going as far as being probably, I’d say, one of the better shooters on this roster,” Hoiberg said.

The Huskers struggled to find consistency behind the 3-point line outside of Wilcher last season. If guys like Tominaga or Dawson aren’t able to knock down shots at a high enough rate, Hoiberg could look to Lawrence to provide a spark.

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