By Tony Lee, Editor In Chief, @sHecKii
In a room full of suits and ties, Andrew Nicholson donned his Bonnies tracksuit as if he had practice.
Despite it being the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Media Day, he kept his answers terse as if he had somewhere to go.
The senior forward’s day started around 9:30 a.m. Nicholson said he was exhausted from the event that took place at a Brooklyn, N.Y., hotel.
But after an hour-long flight from New York City and a 90-minute drive from Buffalo, Nicholson finally stepped onto the Bob Lanier Court.
At around 9:30 p.m., Nicholson began shooting from outside the 3-point line, working on his perimeter game.
“The jump shot’s not going to get better if I sleep, right?”
Coach Mark Schmidt wanted to talk to the Mississauga, Ontario, recruit before Nicholson left with his parents his freshman year.
“I told him that I wanted him to get his chemistry degree — that’s really important,” Schmidt said, “but he may not have to use it ever in his life because he has a chance to be pro.”
Nicholson said he was in disbelief that day. Prior to his freshman campaign, where he led all freshmen nationally in field-goal percentage (.602) and blocks (81), practically no one had heard of him, let alone wanted to recruit him.
“He coached NBA players in the past, so maybe he’s right,” Nicholson said of Schmidt’s analysis. “I’m going to start working at this.”
In 2011 October, I asked Nicholson to say the first word that comes to his mind after each statement:
NBA lottery pick.
NCAA First-Team All American.
A-10 Player of the Year.
Ask those questions to the scrawny freshman who bench pressed a mere 115 lbs. and squatted 185, those confident answers would have never been said.
Now, as one of 50 players named to the John R. Wooden Award preseason list, the senior truly comprehends his skill set — and works that much harder for it.
According to GoBonnies.com, Nicholson now bench presses 300 lbs. and squats 335. In his junior year, he had 30 points and 13 rebounds against La Salle in the A-10 Championship — the highest championship totals in university history. Nicholson hit back-to-back game-winning jump shots versus Buffalo (Dec. 4) and St. John’s (Dec. 7).
But Assistant Coach Dave Moore, who primarily works with post players, said Nicholson has never let that go to his head.
Surprisingly, though not to the coaching staff, his humbleness has never waivered.
“I don’t think it’s gotten him arrogant,” Moore said of the accolades and preseason talks. “It’s like water off a duck’s back. He doesn’t worry about it.”
Moore said Nicholson was primarily a low-post player in his freshman year; as a sophomore, more of a face-up game; as a junior, his catch-and-shoot game improved dramatically to the point where Nicholson could score anywhere on the court.
“The thing about him is that (basketball) comes to him so easily,” Moore said. “You can show him something one time — and he has it. He picks up things really quickly.”
During Saturday’s unofficial men’s basketball media day on campus, Nicholson took a three with a slight fade during a live scrimmage. No hesitation, despite having 20 seconds left on the shot clock.
Nicholson said he worked on his perimeter game over the summer — and he was proud of the results. Schmidt and Moore said Nicholson worked harder than ever in his four years.
Scoring is finally second nature to Nicholson. If Nicholson sees an opening, regardless of where he is on the court, he will shoot.
Do you think St. John’s expected Nicholson, a 6-foot-9-inch forward, to hop-step back to just inside the 3-point line to score the game-winning basket?
“At the core of it, either kids can score the ball or they can’t,” Moore said. “And Andrew had that from day one. I don’t think he realized he had it, but he had it.”
I asked Nicholson what he thought his legacy will be after graduation. He asked for clarification on what I meant as if no one had asked him that question.
He eventually said: “Someone who helped bring the Bonnies back.”
That is his true motivation — to be that person who brought back a positive spotlight to the university.
Nicholson truly doesn’t care about his stats, his records or where he ranks among the greats.
So he shoots threes at night, after a 12-hour day of traveling and interviews. He increased his bench press weight by 160 percent since freshmen year not to look good but to have that stereotypical NBA body.
Moore said he hopes everyone at St. Bonaventure recognizes how special this is. He said the university might never see another person like this again.
It’s time the rest of the world gets to see that, too.