After a year of strict COVID-19 protocols and isolation, off-court bonding has been a big part of this summer for the Nebraska basketball program. For newcomers C.J. Wilcher and Quaran McPherson, however, that connection was already there before they arrived in Lincoln.
Wilcher, a transfer from Xavier, and McPherson, who came to Nebraska following a postgrad year in Missouri, were both born in New York and have been friends for years.
“I’ve known C.J. since about middle school,” McPherson said. “We went to the same high school our freshman year and I lived with C.J. my freshman year, so we were like brothers. So once we lived together, we did everything together — work out together, eat together, sleep together. It’s almost like a brotherhood, we always take care of each other. He makes sure I’m good, I make sure he’s good. It’s good having him here.”
Wilcher committed to Nebraska in late March. McPherson followed five-and-a-half weeks later. Wilcher being on the team wasn’t the reason McPherson chose Nebraska, but it was certainly a nice bonus.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, C.J. went there? Don’t worry about it, I’ll go there too and be with my brother,’” McPherson said. “God’s got a plan for us. If he comes, why not? We can go around one more time. We did it in middle school, high school, why not one time in college?”
Wilcher and McPherson are rooming together in Lincoln, and each of them has stood out in their own way during summer workouts.
According to fellow newcomer Bryce McGowens, Wilcher “shoots the heck out of the ball,” a sentiment other teammates and even Coach Fred Hoiberg have echoed. Wilcher shot 35% from 3 as a freshman at Xavier in limited playing time, but Hoiberg, who recruited the 6-foot-5 shooting guard out of high school as well, believed him to be one of the top shooters in the 2020 class. Wilcher said his skill set fits well into Hoiberg’s offense.
“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.”
Whereas Wilcher has let his jump shot do the talking, McPherson has emerged as one of the most vocal players on the team despite his age and inexperience.
“Q be out there yelling,” senior guard Kobe Webster said. “Q does not care, which is good though. Q is a point guard and so that leadership role is going to be his at some point. That’s good that he doesn’t have any fear of talking or getting on people, so hopefully we can get the rest of the new guys to step up and do the same.”
McPherson certainly isn’t shy. He said being vocal is something that comes naturally to him.
“I feel like it’s easier because it shows that you’re willing to do the things to win a game,” McPherson said. “As a point guard, I feel like it’s your job to talk, get everybody in the right spots, communicate and be a great leader. Even though I’m a freshman, I feel like that’s my role right now — be loud, be vocal and things will fall into place.”
McPherson said he’s doing all he can to learn from Nebraska’s veteran guards like Webster and Trey McGowens. He sees some similarities to his own game in the way McGowens is able to get downhill and attack the basket, and he’s impressed with Webster’s intelligence on the court and the way he plays at different speeds.
“It’s dope to me because I didn’t really have that going into my freshman year,” Webster said. “I was just kind of handed the keys and ‘figure it out.’ So for me, it’s really cool, especially when you see the progress that he’s made over these past two months. Him slowing down and understanding the reads and even defensively being in the right spots, talking, all that stuff is super cool to me because he’s applying what I’m telling him.”
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard has also impressed his teammates with his physicality and tenacity on defense.
“I feel like me playing defense is opening the eyes of the coaches, like ‘Q’s actually willing to get down and defend someone, no matter who it is. He doesn’t care who’s in front of him, he’s going to bring that every day. He’s going to try to guard you. It doesn’t matter if he’s tired or anything, he’s going to play defense,’” McPherson said. “I know if my offense isn’t clicking, I can always rely on my defense. You can get a steal, go get yourself going, go get a dunk. Now you’ve changed the energy of the game and now we’ve got momentum.”
In addition to one another, Wilcher and McPherson have had another familiar face in Lincoln to help them adjust to their new home in graduate manager Hallice Cooke. The former Oregon State, Iowa State and Nevada guard is from the same part of the country as Wilcher and McPherson, and the three of them already knew each other before reuniting in Lincoln.
“I would say he’s like our big brother,” McPherson said. “We can go to Hallice about anything. Any life situation, anything that’s going on personally, you can go to Hallice and he can talk to you because he can relate. And we’re all from the same side of the globe. We’re all from the east side. It’s good that we’re all here together because he can help us. He’s been through the same process and he went to multiple schools so he can help us with learning the game, how to be yourself, stuff like that.”
A couple weeks back, Wilcher and McPherson made the drive up to Omaha to watch Cooke play in the Omaha Metro Pro-Am Summer League. The duo also made the trip up to Omaha on their own Monday night to watch former Husker Dachon Burke Jr. lead his team to the Metro League championship.
McPherson said if someone had told him a year ago that he’d end up in Lincoln Nebraska, he wouldn’t have believed it. But he’s here now alongside a friend in Wilcher, and the two of them are already starting to leave their mark on the program.
“I feel like I made the right decision coming here because the coaching staff believes in me and its a process,” McPherson said. “It’s nothing to happen overnight, just believe in your abilities, always bet on yourself and trust in your coaches. If they trust you to come here and do a job, you should do it.”
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.