Unlike many college basketball players, Andrew Nicholson didn’t come to St. Bonaventure with aspirations of being a professional.
He arrived at the scenic Franciscan campus in the summer of 2008 with the intention of helping to turn around a basement-inhabiting program, earning a degree in a brand-new science building and attending school only three hours away from home.
But everything changed within the first half of his freshman campaign.
Nicholson was a star almost from the start — he had 13 points and five blocks in just the second game of his career and earned Rookie of the Week honors in only the second week of his career.
By the end of the non-conference slate, his coaches thought he might one day be good enough to be a pro. At the end of the season, others outside the Bona bench had taken notice. Fans began to clamor at the impressive numbers, uncanny footwork and rim-rattling dunks this gangly power forward with size 18 feet had displayed. A scout from the Toronto Raptors came to see him play against Saint Louis, the Bonnies’ second-to-last home contest of the season.
And from that time on, while leading Bona from obscurity to the Atlantic 10 championship and NCAA Tournament, the “NBA cloud” followed him.
It pursued him into his sophomore campaign when he was named second-team, all-conference and into his junior season when he averaged 21 points, was named first team all-conference, produced his first “forever” moments and had finally begun to turn some heads in the national media.
And it clung to him this season when he pushed aside a slow start to go on an unbelievable 12-game tear, earn Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors, put on arguably the greatest performance in conference championship game history and led Bona to the NCAAs for just the second time since 1978.
It’s followed him from unheralded recruit — coach Mark Schmidt said the media had called him the “throw-in” on the 2008 class — to perhaps the greatest Bona player since Lanier.
And now it’s here.
“It feels good, it feels surreal,” said Nicholson recently from his Mississauga, Ontario home, where he hadn’t set foot in nearly a year. “It means all my hard work is paying off. It’s been putting time in the gym and putting time in the summertime. I’ve just stayed dedicated and continued to put in the work.”
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward is expected to go some time in the late teens to mid-20s of tonight’s NBA Draft in Newark, N.J. His selection will be the culmination of those four years at Bona and a grueling seven weeks of preparation leading up to the annual event.
Nicholson worked out for 12 teams beginning in the last week of May: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver, Indiana, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City and Cleveland. He spent a bulk of his weekends in Boston, with his personal coach, and in Chicago, where his agency is based.
He’s lived in hotels, airports and in teams’ practice facilities in the time since. At one point last week, he was in three major cities — workouts in Houston and Atlanta and an event in Las Vegas — in a 24-hour span.
So how has he felt about the whole draft process?
“It’s been different, it’s been exciting,” he said. “I’ve gotten to go to difference cities and see different parts of the country ... different teams and organizations. It’s been pretty intriguing I’d say.”
Nicholson understands that plenty will change in his life after tonight. He’ll be a professional athlete in one of the most watched leagues in the world. First round picks in the NBA receive guaranteed money. Last year’s 22nd overall pick, Kenneth Farried, who went to the Nuggets, signed a two year, $2.68 million deal. There will be some fame and fortune, but Nicholson said is he ready for it.
“Yeah, things are going to change and things are going to be different,” he said. “But it’ll be for the best. It comes with the package.”
Nicholson will bring plenty of attributes to whichever team selects him. Scouts love the variety of post moves he possesses, his face-up jump shooting ability, and his ability to block shots.
He also has plenty to work on. His weaknesses according to his nba.com prospect page: scouts want to see him make the corner 3-pointer more consistently, he has to continue to get stronger and he has to cut down on his turnovers.
What else does he feel he has to improve on at the next level?
“Just the little things,” he said. “Adjusting to the NBA and the different styles. It’s a different game. It’s more spread out and fast-paced. I’ve just got to adjust to that.”
Nearly three years after hearing that his name might one day be announced by NBA commissioner David Stern at the podium, he’s ready for it to happen.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “It means I finally made it. But I just have to keep putting in the work.”
(J.P. Butler, a Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at email@example.com)