The forward looks to build on a strong finish to 2020
As a freshman at Milwaukee, 6-foot-7 forward C.J. Wilbourn made the Horizon League All-Freshman Team. Despite this, he’s a fairly under-the-radar player because the All-Freshman team lagged dramatically behind recent seasons where he and Blake Lampman would’ve struggled to earn selections. Nonetheless, Wilbourn’s freshman season is one that makes him intriguing candidate for a much better season as a sophomore. While he didn’t hit the metrics that make Grant Basile a more promising contender to go from mundane stats to stardom, he had a strong finish to last season that has to leave Panther fans encouraged with what he could do this year.
On the year, Wilbourn averaged 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game with an effective field goal percentage of 50.5. But considering he was averaging just 3.3 points per game with a 39.2 effective field goal percentage through 21 games, it seems he clearly acclimated to Division I basketball toward the end of the season. In those final ten games, Wilbourn averaged 6.5 points per game and his effective field goal percentage skyrocketed to 67.4.
What’s even better news for Panther fans is that Wilbourn’s increase in efficiency occurred alongside an increase in attempts. It would seem to show that the 6-foot-7 forward became more comfortable with playing at the Division I level as the season went on in a way that impacted both his shot selection and shot making. If he can continue to build that comfort while realizing that an effective field goal percentage of 67.4 percent can easily dip while still making it worthwhile for a player to continue shooting more, Wilbourn could go from a player who seemed terrified to shoot at the start of his career to one who can be relied on as a consistent post threat in two seasons or less.
Milwaukee’s main concern in 2021 has to be replacing a pair of players who were anything but afraid to shoot in graduated seniors Darius Roy and DeAndre Abram. If Wilbourn can turn into a player who can reliably score double-digits, he could chip away at a decent portion of that lost scoring and leave a smaller chunk to be replaced by Milwaukee’s large crop of newcomers. If he can come into his sophomore season maintaining the efficiency that he finished his freshman year with, another jump in shot attempts makes that a completely attainable goal. The bizarre nature of the 2020-21 season might help him with that. While a December visit to Kansas State appears to remain on the schedule, he’ll spend virtually the entire season playing against Horizon League opponents he grew accustomed to in 2020.
Before we finish, I’d like to qualify that I don’t see Wilbourn breaking out into an All-League performer like I do with many of the previous entries in this series. I mentioned in Trevon Faulkner’s breakout player article that I would’ve considered it a win if I called him a breakout candidate in 2019 and he improved in the ways he did last year. Consider this more akin to that: a promising freshman with the potential for back-to-back breakout seasons that end up with him as one of the stronger players in the league as an upperclassmen.