Wilhelm Breidenbach played in just 10 games before seeing his freshman season at Nebraska cut short by a knee injury on Dec. 7.
After seven long months of difficult rehab, Breidenbach is happy to finally be back on the court with his teammates as the Huskers go through their summer workouts.
“It’s been long, for sure,” Breidenbach told reporters on Thursday. “For three months all I did was just squeeze my leg back and forth. I couldn’t move it or anything, so it was definitely tough at times, definitely a long road. But we have a really great support group here. All the guys around the program, all my teammates were very helpful in terms of just helping me grind through it.”
Doctors repaired both his ACL and meniscus, setting up a long recovery timetable. Breidenbach just began doing contact work in the second week of July.
“They say it’s six to eight months, and you hear that and you don’t really understand that until you’ve been doing it for three months and then realize you still can’t run, still can’t jump, that sort of thing,” Breidenbach said. “So it’s definitely tough, definitely discouraging, just because being in the middle of it there are just a lot of dog days, a lot of times where you just want to play again, but obviously, you can’t.”
Breidenbach said the most difficult part of his rehab from a physical standpoint was the second half when he began working out again and trying to build his strength back up.
“At the start, it’s just all you’re laying down, you can’t really do a lot whereas this, squatting six inches is incredibly difficult, you can’t do it, and you’re thinking, ‘Well, this is unbelievable,’” Breidenbach said. “Like I’m squatting in the weight room, whatever, with just bodyweight squats and I’m used to getting a bar with a bunch of weight on it. So I’d say just just that in terms of the the physical aspect is just you kind of have to really start from ground zero.”
Mentally, the toughest part was finding the motivation to persevere on the more difficult days, which is where the support system came into play for Breidenbach. Now, he’s getting pretty close to 100%.
“Obviously, there’s only so much you can do in rehab,” Breidenbach said. “There are some movements and some times where you’ll land that you just can’t prepare for, so it’s kind of that kind of thing. Just kind of getting my legs under me, just all the all the movements. I’m pretty close. I’m just going to keep grinding through it.”
Breidenbach said he got over the mental hurdle of trusting his knee pretty easily because he’d already gone through one knee rehab before. The 6-foot-10 forward tore his meniscus at the tail end of his senior season at Mater Dei in California. In fact, last season’s injury wasn’t even his first ACL tear. When the doctors conducted the MRI on his meniscus they discovered that he had torn his ACL previously, likely in middle school.
In fact, he had no problem playing above the rim in his first bit of live action, throwing down a couple of dunks on his first day back including one that fired up his teammates.
“He didn’t just dunk, he dunked on two people his first practice back,” C.J. Wilcher said. “It was dope. We were all geeked, excited for him. It’s definitely amazing to have him back because he makes a lot of players’ lives easier because of what he brings to the table.”
During his brief introduction to college basketball prior to the injury, Breidenbach showed glimpses of the shooting and passing that had the coaches excited about him coming out of high school, but he also faced plenty of adversity.
“It’s a different pace, different skill level,” Breidenbach said. “When I was playing, I got in foul trouble a lot just because there were things that I could do in high school that I couldn’t get away with in college because because guys are better with the ball, better at making reads. So just that and then realizing that I have to keep elevating my body, getting more athletic, getting stronger.”
He played both the four and the five in his first year in the program, but as he alluded to, he averaged 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes. To help address that, Breidenbach has spent plenty of time with director of strength and conditioning Kurt Joseph, building up his body and preparing for his return to the court.
“I think I’ve been getting a lot stronger and Kurt’s great,” Breidenbach said. “He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get you better. So I’ve just been following his plan, doing what he tells me to and it’s been going well so far.”
Breidenbach still has a few more weeks to keep building up his body, his stamina and his confidence before the season tips off, but for now, he’s ahead of schedule and the Huskers are happy to have him back on the court.
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.