Josh Pastner was known to be one of the key parts to the Memphis Tigers‘ top classes under former head coach John Calipari. Once Calipari left, many questioned whether he could continue to reel in the highest level recruits in the country.
Four years later, that question is no longer lingering. Pastner has recruited at the highest level, and put a virtual fence around the city for the top local recruits. The most recent class he signed for 2013 could be the best yet. The class included five four-star prospects, as well as one five-star, and ranked No. 3 in the country, according to Rivals.com.
So, that raises one question: Which freshman will have the biggest impact for the Tigers this season? Each will have a chance to bring their own set of skills to the table, but only one will can be the top newcomer for the team. That player is none other than local five-star recruit Austin Nichols.
A product of Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis, Nichols has a chance to be one of the best low-post players the Tigers have had in some time. Nichols surprised many in November, when he chose Memphis over the Tennessee Vols, who were thought to be the favorite to land his services.
During summer workouts in June, he immediately impressed coaches with his high basketball IQ and competitive edge. Nichols was able to pick up on set plays and instructions from coaches, and apply them to the next play, something that is rarely seen out of a guy who hasn’t even played a minute of college basketball. More times than not, coaches have to teach guys set plays and where to be on the court several times before they start to get it down.
Not Nichols. He continuously showed his quick learning skills in practice by taking instructions and applying them on the very next play.
He also has a competitive edge about him that will serve the Tigers well, come tip off time. During those workouts and team scrimmages, Nichols held his own against physically bigger players, like Shaq Goodwin and senior George Washington transfer David Pellom, using his smart fundamentally sound post moves to get to the basket.
He’s going to have to add more muscle, but what he lacks in physicality, he makes up for with athleticism and pure determination. His lean body allows him to run the floor very well, which is a big plus in the Tigers up-and-down style of play. On offense, he has a nice arsenal of post moves and a soft touch. If the lane is clogged, Nichols can step out and hit the 15 to 17 footer.
Defensively, Nichols has a very good low-post presence, and forces the opposition to alter their shots. He’s a good shot blocker, and his athleticism and nimbleness give him the ability to not only guard the paint, but even wing players.
Of course, he still has a lot to work on. As mentioned, Nichols needs to put on a considerable amount of muscle so he can better face up against the big men he will face during his time in the Bluff City. Though he has a nice array of post moves for a freshman, there are still fundamental things he has to learn about playing in the paint against the best in the country. He also has to work on rebounding, something that should come easier at the collegiate level once he adds more muscle.
Overall, Nichols could be the best post player the Tigers have had since Joey Dorsey. He possesses the skills to immediately grab a starting spot and make a big impact in a spot that was a glaring weakness for Memphis last year. The incoming class is loaded with talent, but none have greater potential than the lanky kid who grew up watching the Tigers.