After missing his entire senior season of high-school basketball last year, Arrowhead product Bryce Nze is thriving on the basketball court for the Milwaukee Panthers as a true freshman this season.
A 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward, Nze has been a key contributor off the bench for Milwaukee, averaging 7.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, despite only playing 18.3 minutes per contest.
Adjusting quickly to the college game, Nze earned Horizon League Freshman of the Week honors in mid-January, which included becoming the first UWM freshman in 16 years to score 20-plus points in a game when he tallied 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting against Illinois-Chicago on Jan. 17.
“I don’t even think he cares,” said UWM head coach LaVall Jordan on Nze earning the honor. “He just wants to win, which is the best part about him. He wants to do a good job for his teammates and represent the program the right way.
“I made him aware of the award, and he kind of shrugged it off like it wasn’t a big deal because we didn’t win when we were at UIC. That’s what he’s about his winning. Those are the guys you want. It’s nice they get some individual attention, but that’s not what his goal is. His goal is to win.”
Nze has found a home with the Panthers, but at one point he was uncertain if he’d even attend UWM.
Following the 2015-2016 season, the Panthers fired head coach Rob Jeter. Even though Nze already signed his National Letter of Intent with Milwaukee, his future was suddenly cloudy.
The Panthers hired Jordan, who spent six seasons as an assistant at the University of Michigan, and he quickly made Nze a priority. Jordan went to Nze’s house and sat down with him and his mother for nearly three hours, discussing his vision for the program.
“My mom had a bunch of questions for him,” Nze said. “He told me what his style would be, and that’s exactly what I wanted to come into. He’s lived up to everything he told me. That’s what I love about him being the coach. You can get a lot of fake coaches who say a lot of stuff, but he honors what he says.”
When Nze first arrived for summer workouts with the Panthers, Jordan eased him back into action, as he hadn’t played 5-on-5 basketball in over a year due to his foot injury. As Nze became more involved, Jordan could see his potential and skill set.
Nze also had help from upperclassman in his transition to the college game. Senior forward and former Germantown High School basketball star Dan Studer has mentored Nze, taking him under his wing and showing him the ropes of college basketball.
“The biggest transition has been getting back up to speed,” Nze said. “Going from my junior year of high school, missing my entire senior year and then going to the college game is a huge transition. I had to get used to it pretty quickly.
“It’s been a slow transition. Dan Studer helps me slow down and take my time and think about the game and what I can do better.”
With a month until the conference tournament gets under way March 3, Jordan would like to see Nze improve defensively.
Nze leads the Panthers with 3.3 personal fouls per game. Jordan isn’t surprised, because he understands Nze is going up against mostly veteran players who know how to get position early.
Even though the Panthers and Nze have endured ups and downs this season, Jordan is pleased with the progress Nze has made and is eager to see what the future has in store for him.
“He’s got a high ceiling,” Jordan said. “It will be up to him how much work he’s willing to put in and how much he’s willing to study the game to see where he goes from here.
“He’s coachable, and he’s got an IQ for the game. That helps him because he gets into a situation that we haven’t taught, and he has to use his instincts. That blend of doing what we're teaching and having that instinct and feel is hard to instill in a player. You either have it or you don’t. I'm extremely pleased with his progress and contribution. I think he’s having a really good freshman year to this point.”