Bobby Nickens favored the manual method when son Jared was still in the womb, often repeating the same three letters and, depending on your penchant for preordination, perhaps reshaping the future too. Rather than play music or read stories, the elder Nickens would whisper, “NBA. NBA. NBA.”
Jared Nickens hasn’t quite reached that level, but he’s closer than most. A 6-feet-6 swingman with a wingspan four inches longer, Nickens boasts scholarship offers from Oregon State, Miami and Maryland, among others. He recently visited the Beavers, and plans to take official trips to College Park (June 14), Wake Forest (June 21) and Dayton (June 28),according to his father. That leaves one official visit undecided, though Bobby Nickens said Jared could commit before then, just to wrap up an already exhausting process.
“It got to be a little too much for him,” Bobby said Friday morning by phone. “I told him, ‘Calm down, relax, do what you do and things will take of itself.’ He wanted to make an early commitment, but I told him that wouldn’t be fair to himself. You worked so hard to get these offers, and there are more schools that probably will offer if he has a halfway decent July. Don’t sell yourself short. Just wait and see, then make your decision.”
Nickens attended basketball powerhouse St. Patrick, known for producing professional alumni like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyrie Irving, but reclassified to 2014 and transferred to Westtown High School, an hour closer to his Norristown, Penn. home. There, playing under boys coach and former And1 CEO Seth Berger, Nickens gained the confidence necessary to transform his game from spot-up shooter to diverse weapon.
Shifting into a star role took time, Berger said, but Nickens has become a totally different player. He gained 10 pounds this year, from 170 to 180, and shot 48 percent on three-pointers during the second half of the season, despite facing constant double teams. He improved his shot selection and squelched his turnover count, never once throwing a bad pass against the press as Westtown’s inbounder. “It’s amazing,” Berger said. “I’d love for him to be the first or second receiver, but I knew that when Jared was inbounding, we’d never turn it over.”
At St. Patrick, Nickens was more the catch-and-shoot, stand-in-the-corner secret weapon for longtime coach Kevin Boyle, whose camps Nickens dreamed of attending as a child. Now, he’s a jack-of-all-trades for Berger, running the point, sprinting the wing and using his length to protect the perimeter.
Bobby called his son a “meat and potatoes kind of guy,” one who avoids behind-the-back or between-the-legs dribbles, for fear of being too flashy. It’s the same reservation that precluded Nickens from dunking in games, but look at him now, soaring for the rim and posterizing hapless opponents on every breakaway.
With Romelo Trimble already committed for 2014, Maryland seems bent on assembling a well-rounded class, focusing on a shooting guard, wing and big man. Nickens falls into the second category, especially after a strong Pittsburgh Jam Fest saw his stock accelerate from mid-major hidden gem to high-major target.
“Now that’s he’s gained a little bit of strength and a lot more confidence, it’s easy,” Bobby Nickens said. “He used to sit out there and shoot threes. For the most part, he’d make them, because that was his comfort zone. We have to get him out of his comfort zone, and tell him you have to do this. I know you can do it. I’ve seen you do it. Once Jared knows he can do something, he’ll do it.”
Two quick stories about Jared Nickens, described by coaches as “the life of the party.” He used to wear No. 11, his freshman number with St. Patrick. Then Yilret Yiljep, a Westtown teammate, senior captain and American University commit, went down with a season-ending injury. Next thing Bobby knew, he was wondering why his son changed jerseys to No. 12.
“He said, ‘Because that was YY’s number, and he went down,’” Bobby said, “so he took it over.”
The second story: Every morning before the next summer AAU tournament begins, Jared wakes up at 7:30 a.m. and texts Sports U coach, Brian Coleman. “You ready to go?” Jared checks. “I’m ready to go,” Brian replies. “Okay,” Jared writes, “Let’s go get it.”
“Every tournament we have, first thing in the morning, he makes sure I’m ready, I make sure he’s ready, and we’re going after it to try to take care of business,” Coleman said.
Now, Nickens has new business to oversee: picking the school that will advance him one more concrete step forward, toward fulfilling his father’s womb whispers all those years ago.