Summertime, for most people, is a time to relax and enjoy the weather. For the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team, it’s running suicides, lugging medicine balls through the sand and preparing for their first season in the newly named AAC, formerly the Big East.
It is also a time when the newcomers quickly realize that they are no longer in high school. After reeling in one of the top recruiting classes in the country, head coach Josh Pastner is getting an up-close and personal look at his freshmen for the first time, and one in particular is already making big first impressions.
6-foot-8, 193-pound Memphis native, Austin Nichols, who was rated a five-star recruit coming out of Briarcrest Christian High School by Rivals.com, is already displaying what made him such a highly touted recruit. In Pastner’s four years at the helm of the Memphis program, he has had some some freakishly athletic play makers, but never has he had a low-post player with the skills and basketball IQ of a Nichols.
Thus far through summer workouts, Nichols has impressed coaches and teammates with his ability to quickly pick up on set plays and post moves around the basket.
Recently-hired assistant Robert Kirby has been working with the post players, barking instructions and teaching the players fundamental footwork and moves essential to succeeding at the college level. Most freshman have trouble at first picking up on these things and translating them to the next play, but Nichols has been an exception.
While Kirby has had to reiterate his instructions to other players, even guys like forward Shaq Goodwin who already has a year under his belt, Nichols has shown his ability to learn on the fly by picking up moves and applying them on the very next play in practice — no reiteration needed.
Even more surprising has been his competitiveness and ability to bang down low with guys bigger than him. Despite needing to add weight and muscle, he has held his own against much bigger teammates like Goodwin and senior George Washington transfer David Pellom, using his finesse and smarts to get to the basket and throw it down.
Still a long ways off from a finished product, Nichols has already set himself apart from the other five freshman signed in the 2013 recruiting class. Coaches like when a player takes what he has learned and applies it in practice, scrimmages and games, and Nichols is doing just that.
It is still too early to tell what Pastner has in mind as far as a starting lineup is concerned, but one thing is becoming very clear: it is going to be hard not to throw Nichols into the fire when it comes time to suit up for the first game of the season.