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Don’t leave them alone.
Bobby McGowens knew his sons well enough to recognize that unsupervised 1-on-1 basketball usually ended in teary eyes and bruised egos. Better to keep watch.
“Most times I had to officiate just to make sure it didn’t turn too rough,” McGowens said. “Or I had to stop the game. Neither one wanted to lose.”
Trey and Bryce McGowens did not always get along on the court, but now they’re on the same team. And the dynamic duo from South Carolina might be the biggest key to Fred Hoiberg’s Nebraska basketball reconstruction.
Bryce is the bright shiny object in Hoiberg’s summer drills — the highest-ranked Husker recruit since Andre Woolridge 30 years ago. Teammate C.J. Wilcher calls the 6-foot-6 freshman a “stud.” Three-level scorer. Super athlete. Great teammate.
“The sky is the limit for the kid,” Wilcher said.
But Bryce isn’t alone in pursuing his goals. He has a guardian in Lincoln. An advocate. A point guard.
Trey McGowens, the 6-4 junior who started all 27 games last season, feels a responsibility to facilitate his little brother’s success. Even if his own goals don’t work out this season, Trey said, as long as Bryce achieves his, “I would be happy.”
Trey’s mission to help Bryce comes with another advantage — accountability.
“That was the the biggest thing that helped me step up this year and just look in the mirror,” Trey said. “I got a little brother. He’s going to do a lot of things that I do.”
Trey’s leadership plan includes learning what buttons to push with Bryce. When to scold him, when to encourage him, when to keep quiet.
“A lot of people, coaches or players, are like, ‘Tell Bryce this, tell Bryce that,’” Trey said. “I don’t want to just jump head-first, being too vocal or saying too much. I understand he’s still learning. I don’t want to throw too much at him.”
You have to go back 13 years to find the last time they played on the same organized team. The Pendleton recreational league back. Trey was 8, Bryce 5. Basketball observers in northwest South Carolina could envision greatness.
Why? Good genetics.
Talk of making Nebraska history at the NCAA tournament is familiar. Fred Hoiberg's two previous teams said it. But the combination of veteran Huskers and star newcomers may be all the difference.
Bobby and Pamela McGowens were Anderson County high school players of the year in the same year, 1993. Dad led his team to a state championship and earned a football scholarship to nearby Clemson before transferring to South Carolina State, where he became the Bulldogs’ all-time leading receiver and a member of the basketball team.
Pamela didn’t take a back seat. She became a four-year starting guard at Western Carolina, breaking the school record for steals.
Bobby and Pamela married and became educators and high school basketball coaches. No wonder Trey and Bryce were “gym rats,” according to their mom.
For a couple of months in 2020, it looked like the boys might be conference rivals. Trey was a point guard at Pittsburgh when Bryce committed to Florida State. Then Trey transferred to Nebraska and Bryce decommitted from FSU.
Last summer, Trey shared with Bryce “all the wonderful things” about NU, Bobby said, from coaching wisdom to facilities to strength programs to university support. Bryce took a hard look at the Huskers. He couldn’t shake the idea of teaming up with Trey.
You’ve surely heard this before, but athletes around the country take the “Cornhusker” label pretty seriously. In fact, two new Huskers expressed surprise by the lack of cornfields in Lincoln.
“I love the school,” Bryce said last week. “I love the coaching staff. Everything that’s built around the university. Being able to play with my brother, never done that. ...
“Just having a dog that’s beside you that’s going to get after it. And he makes everybody else better. So it just made me want to come here also.”
Their styles are certainly different. Trey plays 100 mph, with fury and aggression. If he weren’t a point guard, it’s easy to picture Trey as a standout receiver like his dad.
Bryce is more skilled, more finesse and just as skinny as his favorite player, Kevin Durant. But Trey’s physicality rubbed off on Bryce. Big brother challenged Bryce to play with an edge. To match his energy and aggression.
“He’s learned from Trey how hard you have to work,” Pamela said.
“I looked up to him,” Bryce said. “I was like, ‘I want to be like Trey.’”
Wilhelm Breidenbach has returned slowly to workouts with the Nebraska basketball team, and according to teammate Trey McGowens, he is "already on top of things."
Initially, Bryce didn’t drop many jaws on the AAU circuit. But he told his brother he’d ultimately be a five-star prospect. His goal was to play one year of college basketball, then jump to the NBA. Following a prolific prep career that ended as a top-25 recruit, he certainly has a chance.
Bryce keeps a “vision board” in his Lincoln bedroom where he monitors his daily, yearly and five-year goals. It instills discipline and urgency.
Where did the idea come from? Trey, of course.
This summer in Lincoln, they’ve gotten to know each other again after three years apart.
On the court, they make sure to join forces for pickup games, mostly 2-on-2 and 3-on-3. “Beat up on the other guys,” Bryce said. “It’s fun.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Bryce got hot and Trey noticed. “He’s calling plays left and right to get me the ball,” Bryce said.
Said Trey: “We can just be 100 with each other. Keep it real. Without taking it personally. Sometimes we may not want to hear it, but we always listen.”
In just his second workout with the Huskers, Arizona State transfer Alonzo Verge has turned the heads of his teammates.
Off the court, they live about 30 feet apart in different Lincoln apartments. A little separation actually helps their bond. “They cannot be roommates,” Pamela McGowens said, laughing.
Their parents’ most frequent request? Take care of each other.
Trey doesn’t need a reminder of college basketball’s potential adversity. Seven wins and no home crowds his first year in Lincoln produced a grueling winter. But the experience didn’t dampen his expectations for 2022. He wants to be one of college basketball’s best passers. And he wants to make the NCAA tournament.
His little brother is ready to join the fight. Bryce could’ve gone to dozens of programs more prestigious than Nebraska. He liked the idea of leading an underdog and leaving his mark.
Four months away from pep bands, popcorn and sold-out crowds on national TV, it’s a good time to build chemistry and dream big. Trey might be his brother’s keeper, but in the heat of summer it’s Bryce who reminds his role model over and over.
“I don’t do losing," he says. "We ain’t gonna lose this year.”