ST. BONAVENTURE – Not long ago, it would have been the biggest story, by a wide margin, of the summer.
Earlier this month, The Athletic released its early “Mid-Major Top 10” for college basketball heading into next season. And who happened to be at the top of those rankings but the local team, St. Bonaventure, which edged Colorado State and Loyola-Chicago for the No. 1 spot.
Make no mistake: At a program where any and all national attention is relished – even as it continues to move further into the limelight – this was a coup. It was, perhaps, the most noteworthy acknowledgement of coach Mark Schmidt’s team in an offseason that has been marked by them.
And that’s just it.
THREE months into what has become one of the most significant “off” periods in program history, Bona fans have almost become spoiled by what was once perceived as an almost implausible concept: national love. To the point where even a story in which the Bonnies are being viewed as the best non-power conference program in the country has sort of slipped through the cracks.
Not that anyone’s complaining about the volume of publicity.
It’s what the Bona faithful live for during these peak non-playing months.
The Bonnies have been almost universally billed as a preseason Top 25 team in the country. Their latest appearance in such a poll came last Monday in CBS Sports’ most updated listing, which had Bona at No. 23.
And that – their consistent presence in those “too early” Top 25 polls (where they’re currently ranked No. 22 by ESPN) – is only a small part of what amounted to a fantastically enjoyable month for Bona hoops fans.
IN THE last 30 days, Bona followers reveled the staff’s ability to land yet another coveted prospect in Anouar Mellouk, who could be the final piece to one of the most well-regarded recruiting classes in recent memory. Though it came against an unfortunate backdrop, they watched – and could take pride in – the collective effort to bring program legend George Carter back home for a proper burial.
They beamed in every instance that Bona was part of another national prognostication, brightened at seeing Schmidt’s team listed as an almost unanimous preseason Atlantic 10 favorite.
They celebrated the fact that, for the first time, a Bona alumni team was admitted into The Basketball Tournament, giving them an opportunity to see the likes of Marcus Posley, Demitrius Conger and Dion Wright in a brown and white uniform once again. They were able to begin making plans for an intriguing addition to next year’s schedule: A matchup against Virginia Tech in the Hall of Fame Shootout in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
And just when it seemed as if June might finally, quietly give way to July, there was this last enticing morsel for the month:
Andrew Nicholson might well end up being an Olympian.
THE former Bona great, originally one of 21 players to accept an invitation to training camp, was among 12 to make the Canadian National Team’s roster for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which began Tuesday.
Nicholson, a Mississaugua, Ontario native, is part of a final lineup that boasts a number of NBA players, including Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans Pelicans), R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City Thunder), Cory Joseph (Detroit Pistons), Trey Lyles (San Antonio Spurs), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks) and Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors). The team is coached by Raptors boss Nick Nurse, who led Toronto to the 2019 NBA championship.
The 6-foot-9 forward will not only get to compete for an Olympic spot, but do so in his homeland.
Canada is one of four countries hosting the Qualifying Tournament, which features the 16 best non-qualified teams from the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the two highest-ranked countries per region in the FIBA World Ranking. As part of Group A in the Victoria, British Columbia regional, Nicholson’s Canadian Team will take on Greece (which took place Tuesday) and China (tonight, 7:05 p.m.).
Group B, meanwhile, consists of Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey.
Each team will play the two other squads in its group, with the top two teams from each (based on won-loss record and point differential) advancing to the semifinals. Those winners will then meet in the final, where the last team standing will qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The team that comes from the Victoria regional has drawn Group A for the pod phase of the Olympics. That means, should it advance, Canada – ranked No. 21 in the world and in search of its first trip to the Summer Games since 2000 – would face Iran, France and yes, the United States.
Last season, Nicholson averaged nearly 22 points and over six rebounds in 35 contests for the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Now, after a remarkable decade in which he earned A-10 Player of the Years honors, was a first round draft pick and played four NBA seasons (where he’s earned over $24 million and counting) and became a star in China, he can add one more accolade to his resume: becoming an Olympian.
And that has only sweetened an already-satisfying month for Bona diehards.
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)