The spring was kind to power forward Austin Nichols (Eades, Tenn./Briarcrest). His stock soared to the point where he received a late invite to try out for USA Basketball’s under-18 team. How good was Austin at tryouts? Good enough to make the team.
Nichols didn’t know his potential teammates and they didn’t know him. Colorado Springs was a long way from Memphis. Nichols wasn’t ready for the out of country trip. “I didn’t feel comfortable playing and being away from my family and friends,” Nichols said. “I sat down and talked to (coach Billy Donovan) honestly but I thought going home was the best thing.
“I was definitely into it. It was the anxiety of not really knowing anybody up there. It was a great experience. I saw Michael Phelps when I was in Colorado.”
Nichols had distinguished himself against the best talent at USA’s camp. If he didn’t have a sense of belonging going into camp, his play sure spoke volumes afterward. The effort certified his ESPN No. 30 ranking. From a recruiting perspective, did it get him thinking about playing collegiately closer to home?
“I’ve thought about that,” Nichols said. “I figure I might want to be a little closer to my house but I’m not sure. I have to go on some visits and see how it is. I’ve thought about it but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
One visit Nichols might not need to take is Tennessee. After all, he’s been there a few times and his twin sister will be a freshman next year at Tennessee. Twin sister? Already enrolled in college and he’s still in high school? Yes. As a seventh grader, Nichols was held back but his sister didn’t want to stay back and thus the separation grade-wise.
Tennessee is on a strong list of programs that want to sign him next fall. Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee, Memphis, Florida, Virginia and Missouri are in the mix. “That’s just some of the schools that were interested,” Nichols said, not wanting to forget anyone or limit his options. “That’s not all of them and not in order either.”
If Nichols’ mind wasn’t on recruiting, he had good reason. Our conversation took place a few minutes after he left the movie theater. “Ted” was the movie of choice and you can’t blame a guy for being scrambled after watching two hours of a talking bear and Marky Mark.
North Carolina landed a significant recruit out of Briarcrest. Leslie McDonald played for the school before he picked the Tar Heels. Florida had a chance to lay its groundwork with Nichols as Billy Donovan coached the under-18 USA team.
“He’s the head coach of USA and their trainer from Florida was the trainer for USA,” Nichols said. “It let me feel how the university runs through the coaching staff and it was definitely positive.”
You better believe that once Nichols returned from Colorado Springs and USA trials, his phone erupted. The new legislation allowing unlimited contact between coaches and recruits isn’t a hindrance to Nichols.
“I’m more of a texting guy. If some coaches get a little out of hand and if they do, I have to tell them to keep it down and send me a text. I’m a kid; I like to hang out with my friends. I don’t want to talk to coaches 24/7.”
So far, Nichols hasn’t had a problem with intrusive recruiters, especially the ones who appeal to his sense of style. “The style of play I like is to push it, get offensive rebounds,” Nichols said. “I’m a running big man. I’ll take the fast offense and pick and roll.”
July is upon us. Nichols is about to set off from Memphis and head out to Vegas, Philadelphia and back to Vegas with more likely stops in between. It’s a big summer for him. Naturally, he’s excited.
“Overall, the goals for my summer before any tournament or camps, since it’s my last summer is to just have fun. I want to be a better outside shooter, push the ball, block more shots and have fun.”