Wright State basketball: Healthy Huibregtse ready to fill void for Raiders

FAIRBORN — Of all the factors fueling Wright State’s optimism going into its first official practice Wednesday — such as depth, size and the confidence that comes from being defending Horizon League champions — the return of slick-shooting guard Alex Huibregtse from a dicey back injury is no doubt near the top of the list.

The third-year sophomore from Grafton, Wisc., established himself as a 3-point threat as a freshman while appearing in all 24 games. But he had a worrisome preseason in 2021-22 that started with a hamstring issue, ultimately learning the pain radiating down his leg came from a disc pressing against his sciatica nerve.

The Raiders shut him down after three games, and he had surgery March 3.

“I tried to tough it out and play through it, but it was getting worse and worse,” said Huibregtse (pronounced (HUE-bricks).

“Obviously, you think about the worst-case scenario, but I was very comfortable with the doctors and the team we had around me —especially Rob (Slowik), the trainer. I was pretty positive the whole entire surgery.”

The procedure was a success, and he felt well enough two weeks into his recovery to join the team in San Diego for an NCAA first-round game against Arizona.

“The back is 100%, and it feels better, honestly, than it has my whole career here,” he said. “It’s been a long process, but keeping up with the core strength and keeping my hamstrings loose is definitely helping to alleviate any stress and pain on that nerve.”

The 6-foot-4, 197-pound guard is vying for a starting spot. But even if he doesn’t crack the first string, Huibregtse will get extensive playing time.

He averaged 14.6 minutes as a freshman, and star guard Trey Calvin said, “He’s by far the best shooter on the team.”

The Raiders need it. They connected at a 33.3% clip beyond the arc last season, their lowest mark in 14 years.

“He’s shooting the ball well. He can stretch the floor for us. It’s good to have him,” seventh-year coach Scott Nagy said.

“Back surgery is a delicate deal. I was concerned about it, I really was. I didn’t know if he’d ever get back to normal. But he’s way ahead of where I thought he’d be.”

Huibregte had the fifth-most 3s on the team as a freshman with 19 (out of his 21 total baskets). And while he shot only 29.2%, he hit 47.3% while averaging 24.2 points as a first-team all-state player at Grafton High School.

His target this year is to shoot at least 40%, but even if he reaches that mark, he wants to be seen as more than a 3-point specialist.

“Everyone knows I can shoot it — and there’s nothing wrong with just being a 3-point shooter — but my game has never just been about shooting 3′s,” he said. “I think I’m learning now I can use the 3-ball to get into the lane (off the dribble) or get to a mid-range shot.”

In his limited role as a freshman, he displayed a polished floor game, finishing with 20 assists, 12 steals and just six turnovers.

“I’m an older guy now, which feels kind of weird, but I’m trying to be more vocal with my experience. Watching games last year helped with that, seeing it from a different lens,” he said.

Nagy will have plenty of options for his rotation. The Raiders can go big by pairing returning center A.J. Braun with, say, 6-8 forward Brandon Noel, who has emerged in the preseason after redshirting his first two years with injuries.

They also can go with a quicker lineup, putting two-year starting wing Tim Finke at the 4 spot, Calvin at the point and picking two perimeter players from a group that includes transfer Amari Davis, Andrew Welage, Keaton Norris and Huibregtse.

Despite the unexpected transfers of all-league stalwarts Tanner Holden and Grant Basile, who averaged a combined 38.5 points and 15.6 rebounds, they’ll still have plenty of talent and firepower.

“Obviously, losing two guys like that, it’s going to get a lot of attention, and there’s going to be questions about who can fill their spots. But I think the coaches have done a phenomenal job putting that in the past,” Huibregtse said.

“We’re just focusing on the guys we have here. I feel we have a really deep team. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things.”

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