More than 3,000 people entered our Washington Post bracket challenge. One of those people is former Maryland men’s basketball player Drew Nicholas, and he’s beating them. All of them.
Nicholas spent 10 years playing in Europe before retiring and coming back to the states to start his career as a college basketball analyst. He entered a bracket in several challenges this year, and he says his process is simple. He still fills out a paper bracket before entering his picks into the computer, and he only uses one set of picks.
“I feel like once you sit down with your bracket, you gotta go with your gut and your instinct,” he told me. “What’s the point of filling out your bracket and then taking out another sheet of paper, saying, ‘Well, I had Duke maybe getting beat by Michigan State, so I’ll take Duke this time instead.’ You just make the pick and go with it.”
He admitted that while gut and instinct are the driving force, his head for analysis also plays a part.
“One of the things I do once I start filling out the bracket is, I know almost all of the teams,” he continued. “Say, for example, when Miami’s playing Illinois, I think about how Illinois plays, I think about how Miami plays and I think about what town the game is going to be and who does that favor.”
Obviously, his strategy is working.
For Nicholas, who has done college basketball analysis for Total College Sports and ESPN3, the progression to the broadcast side was a natural one.
“I love the game of basketball, I love talking about basketball, I love being around basketball,” he said. “I decided that when it was time for me to stop playing, I still wanted to be connected to the game in some way. This seemed like the logical choice for me. I love it.”
His career as an analyst is young, so for now he’s mostly known for being “that guy who hit that shot.”
With five seconds left in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament, UNC-Wilmington took a 73-72 lead after a couple of successful free throws. The teams went into a timeout, and Maryland’s plan was to get Steve Blake the ball. But Blake was fully covered, so Nicholas ended up taking the inbounds pass. Nicholas took it down the court, dribbled through defenders and launched an off-balance 3-point shot with less than a second left.
The ball sailed through the net, and Nicholas took off at full speed for the tunnel.
“As soon as I saw the shot go in, my initial reaction was strictly complete emotion,” he told me. “I hit it, I saw the ball go in and I saw the tunnel and thought, ‘Maybe we should just go in to the locker room, just so, for whatever reason they decide to not count the basket, we’ll be in the locker room already and they’ll just call the game.”
Nicholas didn’t get far. His teammates tackled him and the officials called for a review of the play, before eventually awarding him the basket. It was a moment that had everything you need in a tournament – a senior hitting a buzzer-beating shot, a team tackle celebration, screaming announcers, winning coach fist pumping, losing coach collapsing on the court. Ten years later, Nicholas is still asked about it.
“A lot of times I’m in the Maryland area and I’ll be at a bar and someone will come up to me, or if I introduce myself, somebody will say, ‘Wait a minute, are you that guy that hit that shot?’ Then that whole story ensues.”
It’s definitely a story worth telling.
It’s also a moment worth reliving. Take a moment and watch: