Andrew Nicholson sees bright future
Realizing that the demands of Division I college basketball and the hours of lab work required for a chemistry major wouldn't necessarily jive, Andrew Nicholson decided he needed to change his major to something a little less demanding.
So he did.
"It's still very challenging, but I have the capacity to do it," Nicholson said without a trace of arrogance. "I'm very, very, very, very good at time management. I've got it down to the millisecond."
Nicholson is equally good at managing his basketball career. The St. Bonaventure forward enters his junior season as a preseason All-Atlantic 10 selection and a rising NBA prospect.
His coach, Mark Schmidt, has fielded more than a handful of calls from interested NBA general managers, and ESPN lists Nicholson as the No. 21 draft prospect among power forwards.
All of this is still relatively new news to the Nicholson family.
"I sat him and his parents down his freshman year and told him he could play in the NBA," Schmidt said. "They had no idea. For them, it's books, books, books. That's how his parents approach things, so that's what he does. The idea of a basketball career never really occurred to any of them. I had to explain that he had a legitimate chance. He's got size 19 shoes, hands as big as a table and he had no idea. He's such a breath of fresh air."
There is, of course, a poetic irony that a legitimate student-athlete is leading St. Bonaventure's rebirth. Seven years ago the program was all but decimated by scandal because one of its players, Jamil Terrell, had a welding certificate instead of an associate's degree.
Smacked hard with NCAA sanctions, the Bonnies have been pulling themselves out of the quagmire ever since.
But in the last three years since the blue-collar Schmidt took over, St. Bonaventure appears to be at least nearing the corner, if not rounding it altogether. Two years ago, the Bonnies finished 15-15 and made the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time since 2005, and last season the Bonnies went 15-16, actually won a game in the conference postseason and finished a more than respectable eighth in the league.
It is not coincidental that those happen to be the same two years that Nicholson has been on campus. The Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, Nicholson topped his freshman numbers (12.5 points and 6.0 rebounds) as a sophomore, averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. In the A-10 conference tourney win against Duquesne, Nicholson had 25 points and seven rebounds.
He is exactly the sort of kid Schmidt needed to get things going at St. Bonaventure. Schmidt's first recruit, Nicholson was all but overlooked during his high school career in suburban Toronto. He didn't start playing basketball until his junior season in Mississauga, Ontario, and missed the entire summer circuit prior to his senior year with a broken ankle.
Schmidt had the good fortune of good timing, finding Nicholson before anyone else did. For once he also had good location in Olean, N.Y. It sits 160 miles from Nicholson's hometown, had a brand new science building going up on campus and a lure that the preternaturally mature Nicholson just couldn't resist: a team as much a diamond in the rough as he was.
"I wanted to be a part of a rebuilding program," Nicholson said. "It's fun to be playing on a team that's always going to win. I wanted to be on a team that could be a part of history and say I was on the team that came back and made the most noise."
I think this going to be a much bigger year for this program. We're ready to make something happen.” -- St. Bonaventure F Andrew Nicholson
Nicholson will have to be the lead trumpet player in a noise-making band. The Bonnies lost their backcourt of Chris Matthews and Jonathan Hall to graduation. The duo sat right behind Nicholson in scoring last season.
A self-described laidback person -- "very laid-back, almost too laid-back" -- Nicholson has all of the physical gifts to take himself and his team to loftier perches.
An offensive sure thing that has averaged 58 percent from the field for his career, he is growing defensively, too. Last season, he moved into third place on the school's all-time blocked shots list, with 136 in his career, and he is steadily becoming more active on the boards.
But Schmidt is looking for that something else, that indescribable trait that transcends ability, the one that would not only lift Nicholson out of obscurity but perhaps the Bonnies, too.
Schmidt can't necessarily name it, but he's seen it before. Schmidt spent seven years at Xavier, working alongside Skip Prosser, and for four of them he watched David West grow into the national player of the year.
"Andrew is on that level," Schmidt said. "He may not have the feel that David had, but he's capable. The thing is, can he handle the next challenge? He's so mature. He's not egotistical at all. He's not the kind of kid who would ever say, 'Coach, shut up. I know what I'm doing.' He listens to every word."
But the respectful kid does seem to be developing a bit of an edge. He politely but matter-of-factly explained that he is not just a little bit offended that St. Bonaventure was picked 13th in the 14-team preseason Atlantic 10 polls. "We're not even close to being 13th," he said. He said he and his teammates are ready for a revolution.
Four of the players on the roster have been a part of the program now for three years or more, taking the incremental baby steps necessary to build a solid foundation under the once-floundering Bonnies.
They are ready now for results.
"I can't wait for this season to start," Nicholson said. "We've stuck together through so much adversity. I can just see something different in practice. I think this going to be a much bigger year for this program. We're ready to make something happen."
And the physics major knows how to do it: Force equals mass times acceleration.
The force behind the Bonnies, it would seem, is ready to accelerate.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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