Andrew Nicholson: The Gentlemanly Giant

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TORONTO, ON–It’s hard to imagine that anyone who stands 6’9 and wears size 19 sneakers could ever fly under the radar. And yet, that’s been exactly the case throughout the basketball career of Andrew Nicholson, currently among Canada’s top NCAA players.

Coming off his junior season in 2010-2011 where he averaged 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, and was named to the All-Conference Team, Nicholson has finally cemented his reputation as a legitimate NBA prospect. He initially broke onto the scene by winning the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year award, and followed that up with a solid sophomore year where he put up 16 points and 7 rebounds a game. Using his length and solid fundamental skills at both ends of the court, Nicholson has been the guiding light for a basketball program that had been an afterthought for several years. So how come we don’t hear more about him?

For one, his workmanlike approach to the game isn’t flashy. Some also say that playing at a small school like St. Bonaventure keeps him hidden from prime time coverage, but the Atlantic-10 Conference is no joke; it’s actually one of the better ones in the NCAA. Or maybe it’s the fact that Nicholson is a humble, unassuming individual who would sooner talk about his family or education before his excellence on the hardwood. He doesn’t crave the spotlight. It’s not in his nature. And even if it were, he probably wouldn’t have time to worry about it, as he’s currently tackling the ultra-tough task of earning his physics degree.

“My education is a big key in my life,” Nicholson explains. “It’s just as important as basketball to me. Having a degree to fall back on is very important.”

Thoughtful, intelligent, hard-working and focused. Those are the best words to describe Nicholson, and they indicate why he’s the perfect person to lead the St. Bonaventure’s turnaround. Once mired by an academic scandal and numerous lackluster seasons, the Bonnies needed to find players with the talent and the character to bring a winning culture back to the school. Truth be told, they probably had no idea how good Nicholson would become when they brought over the lanky teen from Mississauga. But in all fairness to them, neither did anyone else.

Originally a baseball pitcher in his youth, Nicholson found himself drawn to basketball after he outgrew all of his classmates. Although new to the game, his blend of height and smarts accelerated his learning curve, and he became one of the top high school players in Ontario. That’s when St. Bonaventure came knocking. It was a good fit for Nicholson, as the program’s rebuilding phase gave him the perfect opportunity to focus on steadily developing his own game.

“I was too skinny coming out of high school, and I needed to hit the weights,” Nicholson says. “I also had to get more accustomed to the level of competition and not only improve my skills, but learn to take the game more seriously.”

During his successful freshman year, Nicholson contributed to the Bonnies playing decently enough to finish the season 15-15. While their record didn’t improve the following year, Nicholson’s skills did, and for the first time in several years, the program looked to be standing on solid ground. However, when the Bonnies lost their two starting guards to graduation, the pressure was on Nicholson to see whether he could rise to the occasion. Obviously, we know that answer.

“I’m the leader who gets guys going on this team,” Nicholson tells NPH. “I’m competitive and love to win.”

That was never more evident than during the 2010-2011 season, as St. Bonaventure finished the season with a respectable 16-15 record, and even won a conference playoff game. In one particular regular season contest, Nicholson had the game of his life when he dropped 44 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists in a 4 OT thriller as St. Bonaventure knocked off Ohio.

Other memorable performances included a 30 point, 13 rebound and 4 block game against LaSalle, and a 35 point and 11 rebound gem against Dayton. Not only was Nicholson’s play brilliant, but he also displayed his ever-evolving skills, including a face-up game and a jump shot that had previously been inconsistent.

“Every year, I take all the stuff that I was weak on the year before, and I work on it,” explains Nicholson. “In my first year I could only dunk, so I had to add a jump shot. And now I’m looking to add better ball handling to my game.”

Clearly, Nicholson has no problem applying his school work ethic, which he credits his parents for passing onto him, to basketball. “We [St. Bonaventure] want to make it to the NCAA tournament next season, and the way to do that is work hard, play hard, and have a chip on your shoulder,” says Nicholson, explaining his never-ending desire to improve.

“Going into my senior season, I need to be a leader on this team and lead by example.”

You can bet that everybody at St. Bonaventure breathed a collective sigh of relief when Nicholson decided to forgo entering the NBA draft and come back for one more year of school. It was never really much of a decision for him, though, as he is focused on not only improving his game, but also obtaining that science degree he’s worked toward. Currently, the general consensus is that Nicholson will be a late first-round pick in 2012, although we know fortunes can change drastically over the course of a season.

As the NPH team has had the pleasure of witnessing Nicholson evolve and blossom as a player since his high school days, it is fair to say that his potential is somewhat overlooked. The NCAA will surely be aware of who Andrew Nicholson is by next season.

For now, Nicholson is content to continue along his path; steadily, surely and totally unassuming along the way. And whether he cashes in as an NBA player or as a physicist, one of Canada’s top NCAA players will forever be living proof that with a strong work ethic and the right attitude, you can always achieve your goals.

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