Standing at 6-foot-10.5 and wearing a pair of sports goggles, 4-star Nebrasketball newcomer Wilhelm Breidenbach is hard to miss on the court.
If you search his name on YouTube, the first two videos that pop up lead with “FEAR the GOGGLES!” and “The GOGGLES Give Him POWERS!” There aren’t many basketball players still rocking glasses on the court, especially ones with Breidenbach’s mix of size and skill, but he calls them “a defining feature” and something he embraces.
“I’ve thought about contacts,” Breidenbach said. “I used to not wear glasses up until I think it was sixth grade. Now it’s kind of just what I do. I’m so used to it that I don’t really feel the need to have contacts or anything like that.”
As for the height, Breidenbach had been listed at 6-foot-9 at Mater Dei High School in California, but he measured in at 6-foot-10.5 when he got to Nebraska. The difference? His posture.
“My posture, obviously if you’ve seen me you’d know it’s not the greatest thing, but being here and kind of working more on my core and shoulders I think has kind of pulled them back so I’m standing up straighter,” Breidenbach said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect or straight but it’s been getting a lot straighter. I’ve put a lot of focus into it so it’s getting there.”
Breidenbach said he didn’t know when his back started to curve; it was a gradual thing. His doctor told him it wasn’t anything serious, however, and it didn’t ever cause him pain. Now that he’s on a college strength and conditioning routine, it’s already starting to change.
Breidenbach spent more time with the strength coaches and trainers than getting up and down on the court during his first month in Lincoln as he rehabbed a meniscus injury that cut his senior season short. He opted against surgery, rehabbing the knee instead, and just recently started working his way back onto the court.
“I’m out there, I’m able to play a little bit, go up and down, so I’m pretty close to being back to full health,” Breidenbach said. “So hopefully it’s just keep building, keep strengthening my legs and everything that needs to be strengthened to avoid more injuries.”
Breidenbach said he’s still getting his legs back underneath him and regaining confidence in the knee after what was his first serious injury. What made it even tougher was missing the end of his senior season at Mater Dei. The Monarchs were 24-0 when Breidenbach went down just before the playoffs, and they went 3-4 down the stretch without him.
“It was tough,” Breidenbach said. “It was hard because I’d never missed that many games before and I think we were undefeated before I went out and then I think the season kind of went in the wrong direction in the playoffs and things like that. That definitely sucked, definitely wasn’t ideal, but there’s not a whole lot I could have done about it.”
As a junior, Breidenbach played alongside a 5-star point guard in Devin Askew (who enrolled early at Kentucky this past season and has since transferred to Texas) and another senior sharp-shooter in the backcourt. This year, the Monarchs returned three starters in Breidenbach, 6-foot-10 USC commit Harrison Hornery and 6-foot-8 Nevada pledge Nick Davidson — all frontcourt players.
That put more pressure on Breidenbach and Hornery to carry the load offensively and to expand their games as they prepared for the next level. Breidenbach averaged career0-highs in points (15.5) and assists (2.8) to go with his 7.0 rebounds per game in the 21 games he played before he got hurt.
“Last year, having that younger group of guards was better for me, I know, just because I kind of had to take the lead, take those guys under my wing and I was able to bring the ball up the court when I get rebounds, kind of have a lot more freedom than I was ever used to,” Breidenbach said. “I had the ball in my hands a lot more, so it was definitely good to just be able to start shooting it with confidence, going off the dribble more with confidence.”
Breidenbach hasn’t been able to do too much yet, but from what he’s seen so far he feels his game is going to fit just fine in Fred Hoiberg’s system.
“It’s been pretty easy,” Breidenbach said about the adjustment. “Obviously the first couple weeks I was here was all watching, I couldn’t do anything. But it’s a real free-flowing offense. There’s a lot of freedom each individual player has, which I like. They let me stretch the floor, make reads for myself, which I’ve got to work on making them a little quicker but it’s a really good situation for me to be in … Everybody, one through five now from what I’ve watched, is able to initiate the offense. Wherever they catch it guys are cutting off of them, anybody can make plays.”
Breidenbach has already caught the attention of his teammates as well.
“Wil definitely surprised me because when I thought of the goggles, I was like ‘Ahh,’” Trey McGowens said after practice on Tuesday. “But Wil can play. He’s versatile, he can shoot it as well. While he wasn’t practicing, while we were practicing he was just working with Coach Hoiberg on his shot. A couple times in practice we played two bigs because he’s in the right place at the right time. Yesterday was his first day live and he’s already on top of things. So give him credit for paying attention on the side, just soaking everything up.”
Bryce McGowens echoed his older brother’s thoughts, mentioning Breidenbach’s shooting ability and saying he has “underrated athleticism.”
Breidenbach and the younger McGowens are part of a talented group of underclassman newcomers in Lincoln, and Breidenbach said they have quickly grown close.
“Everybody here has been really welcoming,” Breidenbach said. “As far as us bonding, it just happened because we’re living together, we’re with each other everyday, going to eat, work out, whatever it is. Bonding’s been super easy and we just talk about getting adjusted. None of us besides Sam [Hoiberg] are from Nebraska, so we’re all coming from different places, all getting adjusted together. It’s been pretty easy kind of having that support group around us.”
Breidenbach is still adjusting to the difference between Southern California and Lincoln, but he already feels right at home on the court at Nebraska.
Even his goggles, his “defining feature,” are Nebraska red.
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.