In sinking a mid-range jumper with 14 seconds left to send George Washington to a 47-46 win over Morgantown in the Class AAAA championship game last year, forward Ben Nicol certainly made a name for himself.
Since that game, his name has landed on the radar of several Division I programs.
Akron became the latest program to officially extend Nicol an offer on Wednesday night after the junior had helped guide the Patriots to a 47-43 win at South Charleston. The Zips joined Radford, Stetson, Youngstown State and Ohio on Nicol’s offer list.
Certainly, the shot introduced Nicol to a larger audience, but the recent uptick in his recruitment is based on much more than a single play. At 6-foot-7 and with the ability to hurt defenses equally from the interior or the perimeter, the left-hander’s unorthodox shooting style and skill set has college coaches calling and opposing prep coaches stressing over defensive game plans.
“He will be as good as he possibly can be because that’s his approach to it,” GW coach Rick Greene said. “He’s already got very nice D1 offers, but those are very, very legitimate offers, but can he go the next notch up? I know it won’t be for lack of effort or lack of intelligence or lack of being coachable. And his grades are great. He literally, he’s the full package.”
That future is certainly promising, and only five games into his junior season, Nicol has time to take his game to even higher levels. Over the offseason, he said that included work on his ball-handling and overall offensive repertoire as he looks to increase production in his third prep season.
As for the shot in the championship game, it’s something he admits he still hasn’t fully processed.
“I don’t think it still has fully set in,” Nicol said. “It’s every kid’s dream to hit a shot like that in a big game, whatever game it may be, but in West Virginia, that’s the biggest stage you can get. I’m really fortunate that went in and it all went up from there.”
While the incoming offers are thrilling and validating, Nicol said he’s more excited by this season as the Patriots aspire to claim back-to-back championships for the first time in program history.
“Looking forward more to this year, we’ll focus on [college] when the time comes,” Nicol said.
The Patriots are off to a good start, and with six seniors and four juniors in the mix, they certainly have plenty of experience in tow to make a run. But, having reached the pinnacle a year ago, standards are high within the program and the current 5-0 record may not mean as much as the quest to maximize potential.
“We get a little unfocused now and then, a little slow still in my opinion,” Nicol admitted. “But I think being a state champion, you know what it takes to get there and you know what it takes to succeed. I think it will help us.”
Greene acknowledged that coaching a defending state champion brings it’s own unique set of challenges.
“It is different,” Greene said. “Way back in 2011 [a state championship season for GW], I didn’t feel like as a coach that I really did a very good job in 2012. We still got back to the finals, but I didn’t see us improving. I felt like we had lost our edge and you’re trying to get it back, but when you’re trying to get your edge, it’s hard to get it. And I think that’s why a lot of people don’t repeat at any level.”
In order to maintain that edge this time around, Greene has an experienced bunch on which to depend, including Nicol, who continues to flourish and fill his role — scoring, rebounding and defending while opening up senior point guard Zane McCarty and junior guard Brenden Hoffman to score as well.
“[Nicol’s] that lefty, I married a lefty and they’re just not always wired the same,” Greene laughed. “But he can put it on the floor, he’s a great passer and he’s very intelligent. He’ll come down the floor and say, ‘Coach, they’re doing this, let’s run this.’ ”
While Greene was complimentary of his forward, Nicol returns the kudos.
“Coach Greene does a heck of a job,” Nicol said. “Whatever he says goes and I don’t question it. Not even a thought.”