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BASKETBALL

How Nebraska guard C.J. Wilcher used meditation to break out of a midseason slump

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On a new episode of the Half-Court Press, we introduce new Creighton writer Joel Lorenzi as he and Jimmy Watkins cover a variety of basketball topics.

LINCOLN — C.J. Wilcher isn’t the same without his morning routine.

Wilcher has spent the last week-plus moving from his old apartment into a new house. He’s stayed up late unpacking, arranging. He hasn’t had time to meditate, and it’s hurting his game.

“I can obviously tell the difference because it shows on the court,” Wilcher told The World-Herald on Thursday. “I miss a shot, and it’s like, ‘I gotta make the next one.’ It’s like I’m pressing to do what I do best.”

Wilcher felt the same sensation early last December, when he fell into a month-long shooting slump. Over six games and 21 days, Wilcher made just 7 of 28 (25%) 3-pointers. NU lost five of those six, leaving Wilcher feeling “flustered,” “anxious,” underwhelmed.

He’d envisioned bigger plans for the season.

“We all had expectations going into the year,” he said. “It didn't initially go the way I wanted it to for myself. And then we were losing … so it's a lot that goes into that.”

The fix was simple, though: Breathe. Former NU guard Kobe Webster tried the technique one year earlier. Strength coach Kurt Joseph had been meditating for six. Both implored Wilcher to explore it.

At first, Wilcher would stop by the Devaney Center to meditate for five minutes after shootaround. Then he’d crash at Webster’s house so they could meditate together in the mornings. And eventually, Wilcher brought the technique into his living room

Today, he’s moved to his bedroom, and he begins every day the same way: He plays meditation music on YouTube; he performs breathing exercises; and he recites affirmations as he breathes. 

He recites positive affirmations as he breathes.

I’m confident.

I believe in myself.

I’ve been put in a situation for my higher good.

Wilcher says it works, and he points to his late surge last season as proof. From January to March, he shot 46.5% from 3 over 19 games, and he never shot worse than 40% for longer than two.

Why?

“I was a lot more relaxed,” Wilcher said. He could clear his head of clutter.

If Wilcher missed a jumper, “I was fine,” he said. He could make up for it with a rebound, steal or by taking a charge. And he reminded himself that he would make the next shot.

“Positivity serves me everything,” Wilcher said. “Negativity serves me none.”

He repeats that sentiment every morning (or at least, he will when he’s finished moving). He might repeat it again in the afternoon and in the evening — anytime he feels stressed.

Wilcher began meditating to solve his shooting woes, but he’s learned since that it applies to everything.

Apprehension. Hoops. A new home.

“Being clear-headed helps me overall,” Wilcher said. “ It's not something that I do to help me with a specific thing. It just helps me with my mood throughout the day.

“Life happens, so I don't just meditate one time. I’ll get upset, (and) I’ll take myself back and breathe just to calm myself down.”

Wilcher's new diet

Say goodbye to SweetTart Ropes. Wilcher dropped 14 pounds this offseason — he weighed 221 pounds last year, 207 now — thanks in part to a new diet.

Two new diets, actually. Wilcher tried intermittent fasting and water fasting this summer. Intermittent fasting requires that all of his food be consumed during a specific window (commonly an 8-hour window). Twice a day, Wilcher consumed rice, vegetables and eight ounces of protein. He also mixed in a protein shake.

Water fasting is a water only-diet.

"(It's hard) at first,” Wilcher said. “Then it just becomes a mental thing."

Wilcher said he felt the change was necessary, and he can feel the difference this summer. He’s quicker, faster, and he fires jump shots with more ease.

“I feel better,” he said. “It took a lot of work, but this has been the process my whole time playing basketball. I played in like a new skin every year in terms of my physique.

“This is just another evolution.”

Breidenbach speaks on his return

Wilhelm Breidenbach addressed the media Thursday for the first time since tearing his ACL against Michigan last winter. The redshirt freshman called rehab a “tough” and “long” process, but he’s growing confident in his knee. He feels “close” to the player he was before the injury.

That’s encouraging considering all Breidenbach has been through over the past year-plus. He tore his meniscus in the same knee before arriving on campus last summer, and tests revealed that Breidenbach had torn the ACL in that knee previously. He thinks the injury occurred in middle school.

Breidenbach hopes those struggles are behind him now. Nearly eight months removed from his most recent injury, he’s dunking in practice again. Wilcher said Breidenbach has dunked on two teammates so far. Fred Hoiberg said the big man dunked his first day back at practice.

After a long time away, “I felt great to be able to dunk again,” Breidenbach said. “Before, I couldn’t jump very well. “ So for that to be the first thing (I did) was pretty cool.”

A different vibe

Wilcher can already see the difference on defense. This year’s Huskers play with energy and attention to detail.

“It’s not perfect,” Wilcher said. “We still get yelled at.” But they’re faster at fixing mistakes. This year’s team volunteers to watch film.

“That didn’t happen last year,” Wilcher said.

Wilcher also said this year’s team also spends more time together off the court. Alabama transfer Juwan Gary spends a lot of time at Wilcher’s house. Wilcher and his roommate, redshirt freshman Denim Dawson, like hanging at redshirt freshman Quaran McPherson’s place.

“Every weekend, we’re all chilling together. I think that’s the biggest cultural change — that we just enjoy being around each other.”

It shows at practice. Wilcher said the 2022 Huskers don’t “talk back” to coaches, which is another contrast from 2021.

“Of course, guys have those moments or bad days (where) somebody has something to say,” Wilcher said, “But for the most part, I feel like we are open to listening to the coaches. The adjustments (are) quick adjustments. We get instructions then we try to implement it right away, whether Coach is talking to somebody directly or the whole team.”

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