It’s 4:30 P.M eastern time, half an hour before my scheduled interview with rising Canadian NBA star Andrew Nicholson, a member of the Orlando Magic and an integral piece of Canada’s basketball future. I quickly fill up my glass of water, glance at my notes and a few blinks later Nicholson and I finally connect as Team Canada wraps up another gruesome practice on a hot, steamy summer afternoon in Orlando, Florida.
After making his Canadian National team debut against Jamaica in front of family, friends and a cozy sold out Toronto home crowd, Nicholson is happy to be away from the distractions and satisfied to be back in familiar territory. Its a place he enjoys and is happy to call “his home, away from home.” However, when asked to compare which two cities he prefers, the soft spoken Nicholson is quick to remind all of us that his roots are deeply attached and ingrained to the Maple Leaf on the cover of this premier collectors issue.
“I love Orlando, it’s a fun place to be and our home arena is definitely my favorite, but Toronto is my city and I represent Canada to the fullest.”
He’s only 23 years old, and a year removed from a successful rookie campaign in which the 19th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft appeared in 75 games, averaging 7.8 points and 3.4 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 255 pound forward is now set to embark on a journey unlike any he’s experienced before. Nicholson and Team Canada will get a taste of FIBA basketball and the physicality of the international game in hopes of bringing Canadian basketball back to a “New Era” of respectability and relevance on the global stage.
It seems not so long ago when Canada’s top talent would resort to sitting on Florida’s beaches rather than stressing themselves with the National team. Its long list of well documented problems often resulted in a boycott by high-level NBA players, leaving Canadian basketball fans with a sour taste of underachievement while further questioning the direction and leadership of the country’s top basketball program.
Current Dallas Mavericks centre and 13-year NBA veteran Samuel Dalembert comes to mind. After multiple years of fighting extremely hard to obtain his Canadian citizenship, Dalembert, a native of Haiti who was raised in Montreal was kicked off the National Team by former and controversial Head Coach Leo Rautins, who questioned Dalembert’s commitment and “prima donna” NBA ways. Dalembert’s dismissal at the prime of his career represented just how bad things were back in 2008 for a national organization surrounded by an abundance of growing and emerging talent. They lacked the leadership, respect and framework to attract and keep the few high-level NBA players in the league.
“Qualifying for the 2014 FIBA World Cup is extremely important to me and is something this group is obviously striving for said Nicholson.” Canadian basketball is headed in a new direction and I’m just glad to be a part of it,” added Nicholson while discussing his own lack of involvement with the national program in his younger days.
To think that a homegrown talent such as Andrew Nicholson, who grew up right in Canada’s basketball hotbed and arguably the top market for recruiting globally, otherwise known as Toronto, could have one day decided not to be a part of the national team, is just a ridiculous thought — yet, it’s another bona fide example that illustrates just how quickly Canadian basketball has grown over the past ten years and how fast it has accelerated in the last five years as the culture and mindset has started to change.
Despite never playing for Canada and maintaining a limited focus and interest in the national squad, Nicholson respects the players who have come before him and is appreciative of what they have done. “Yeah, I look up to all the current guys on the roster, it’s always an honor to represent your country, and the veterans on this team and previous rosters have paid their dues, now it’s our time to try and lead the National Team.”
High School & Recruiting
Andrew Nicholson’s rise to basketball stardom is unconventional. A late blooming homegrown basketball talent, Nicholson dreamt of striking out opponents in (Major League Basketball) rather than giving opposing big men nightmares on the hardwood with his developing, versatile all-star calibre game. It didn’t take long for the lanky 16-year-old to take advantage of his superior size and establish himself as a dominant force in the interior as well as on the perimeter. The skilled forward helped Father Michael Goetz reach new heights with back-to-back 4A OFSAA (Ontario Federation Student Athletic Association) appearances during his time at the Mississauga based school where he racked up MVP’s and double-doubles on his way to averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks per game as senior.
Despite the tremendous upside, and comparisons to former number one pick Greg Oden (2007), a sprained ankle prevented Nicholson from showcasing his skills in front of NCAA coaches on the AAU circuit. Not to mention a broken cell phone, which he cracked by accidentally crushing it with his growing size 18 sneakers, further limited his ability to communicate when coaches attempted to reach out to him.
His limited exposure coupled with his decision to stay home and finish his high school career in Canada, rather than pack his bags and head down south like Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, didn’t help and led to only mid-major schools reaching out. One of the few schools intrigued by Nicholson’s talent was St. Bonaventure University, Head Coach Mark Schmidt who began coaching in 2007 to rebuild the Bonnies program which was in complete disarray after it was sanctioned by the NCAA for knowingly using an academically ineligible player in 2003.
When mulling over his options Nicholson quickly and carefully formulated all outcomes like a chemist, and eventually settled on the St. Bonaventure as it provided him with an opportunity to be part of a basketball program in overhaul. But what sealed the deal was not just the culture that Schmidt was creating in the locker room, but rather a shiny new building next to the confines of the 5,480-seat Reilly Center which he would call home for the next four years. The William F. Walsh Science Center, a sparkling new building, greatly appealed to Nicholson, who wanted to major in chemistry. “The Science Center at St. Bonaventure is a one of kind world class facility and I was excited to learn from that type of environment and with the situation that the basketball program was in at the time, it was the perfect opportunity for me to go in and just do my thing.”
“My parents have always taught me the value of education first and the importance of doing something meaningful,” acknowledges Nicholson.
Unwilling to disappoint his parents in the classroom Nicholson was forced to switch from chemistry to physics as his lab hours often conflicted with practice schedules. In an effort to improve his grades and polish his skills on the hardwood, he stayed in the lab in Allegany, New York during the summers, instead of making the three and a half hour drive north to Toronto. His hard work and dedication both on and off the court paid off as Nicholson went from a virtually unknown prospect to making his parents proud with his Physics degree. In the process he revived and became the face of a Bonnies program in desperate need of a new identity, not seen since the days of NBA Hall-Famer Bob Lanier, who was selected number one overall by the Detroit Pistons in 1970, and is highly regarded as “one, of the game’s greatest big men.”
Freshmen Nicholson wasted no time making his presence felt for the Bonnies earning 2008-09 Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year by averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks to set the Bonnies field goal percentage record to a staggering 60.2%. By time his senior year came around Nicholson further polished his game by adding a consistent 3-point shot to his already lethal arsenal and just about convinced the rest of Canada and America that he was the real deal. The Bonnies won seven of their last eight games thanks to his 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots to lead the Bonnies to an improbable Atlantic-10 Championship over Xavier and earn a trip to NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
Ranked 14th in the big dance the Bonnies fought hard for nearly forty minutes and nearly upset the #3 Florida State Seminoles, coming up short 69-60 in their opening round game of the 2012 tournament. The close loss ended Nicholson’s collegiate career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,103 career-points. Nicholson earned an All-American Honorable Mention and became the first player to take home both Atlantic-10 Rookie and Player of the Year honors with an average of 17 points, 7.2 rebounds and two blocked shots in his time with the Bonnies
As our interview comes to a close Nicholson was confident and well aware of the challenges Canada will face as it attempts to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He believes that despite their inexperience they have enough talent to dethrone powerhouses like Argentina and Brazil, who along with the USA have traditionally represented the Americas zone at both the World Championships and Olympic stages. “We are missing some key guys but we will go out there and compete hard and try to accomplish our goal of qualifying. We’ve had a tough and intense training camp and are gelling together every day.” In an effort to find the right chemistry and combinations on the floor, head coach Jay Triano experimented with his lineup ahead of the FIBA Americas as Canada went 0-4 at the 2013 Tuto Marchand Continental Cup, serving as a tune up for the World Cup qualifier.
Despite the dismal showing by the young inexperienced Canadians, Andrew Nicholson continued to show signs of brilliance by leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game while showcasing more confidence in his three-point shot, nailing 6-of-7 shots from beyond the arc.
Canada and Nicholson halted their four game losing streak by opening the 2013 FIBA Americas with their third win of the summer against Jamaica. Canada’s trio of Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Nicholson took charge in key moments against Brazil, a team Canada had not defeated in 10 years and fought off a near 9-hour power outage across Venezuela in the last group game against Uruguay. Finishing the opening round of the tournament with a 3-1 record, good for second place in Group A.
With the second round looming closer and Canada needing a top four finish to advance to the World Cup, Nicholson and Canadian basketball fans back home and abroad were finally starting to get a taste of international success. The national team opened up the second round by routing eventual champions Mexico 89-69 to push their record to 4-1 and three-game winning streak had everyone including the announcers in Caracas, jumping on the Canadian bandwagon, by not only declaring them favorites to win the Americas championships, but a potential threat at next year’s World Cup when some of their missing key guys joined the rest of the squad.
Unfortunately for Canada and Andrew Nicholson their inexperience and lack of execution in the late stages of close games against the cream of the crop of the Americas zone caught up with them. The National team dropped three-straight games including a nail-biting 73-67 loss at hands of Argentina that suddenly left Canada’s 2014 FIBA Word Cup hopes at the mercy of FIBA delegates who will award four wildcard spots between 15 nations in January 2014.
For Nicholson, despite a few moments of immaturity and perhaps some bad international officiating, the lessons were learned – in eight games at the FIBA Americas Nicholson averaged 15 points, 3.4 rebounds, connected on 55% of his field goals and was above average from the outside – burying 45.5% of his open looks including a near perfect 94.7% from the free-throw line.
Not only did Nicholson lead, he at times was Canada’s best player on the floor by displaying flashes of brilliance while keeping his defenders off balance with a deadly combination of soft right and left hand hook shots that are sure to bode
well for Canada and the Magic in the years ahead.
Nicholson outlines his next steps, “get stronger, improve my rebounding and defend better by not picking up costly fouls.” As long as Nicholson is able to master these remaining disciplines, which should come easy for a guy with a degree in Physics who is accustomed to solving complex formulas, then he and Canadian basketball fans will truly enjoy watching Nicholson and the “New Era” of Canadian basketball.
Kuzmania Starts A Forum For The Lakers To Play A Game In Inglewood Next Season
Holding the leather Spalding up in the air like it was the Larry O’Brien trophy, a game before the Los Angeles Lakers 2017/2018 season would officially end before the playoff campaign. Head coach Luke Walton, suit-jacket off and relaxed asks Andre Ingram how long he’s been playing in the D…excuse us, the G-League for. “10 years” the decade, 32 year old vet (who Brandon calls cuz, but isn’t actually a relation…although he’s now a Laker brother) replies after posting 19 exuberant points in his NBA debut. Just days before he would throw out the first, ceremonial baseball pitch at a L.A. Dodgers game. “Hell of an opening night man” coach says in kind as he shakes his hand, follows with an embrace and then hands him the game ball before ‘Dre’s day ends with a fingers to the sky team huddle of “together” on three.
That’s just the kind of season these young Lakers have had.
But how can yet another losing one bring so much joy, let alone hope?
Let’s write it out again…
That’s just the kind of season these young Lakers have had.
And if it leads to free agents like hometown hero Paul George signing. Or even the King, LeBron James in La La Land for his closing Hollywood career chapter on court. Then you couldn’t even script it better than Lavar wanting all the Ball boys on the floor at the same time.
And who knows who they’ll win in the lottery when the draft balls fall this Summer.
But even if all this becomes a bust the Lakers still have an incredible young core lead by Lonzo, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and many more late round steals like Ivica Zubac and this years class class of Josh Hart and the new Bryant, Thomas. Kobe who? All this after even losing Six Man stud Jordan Clarkson and slam show stopper Larry Nance Jr to Cleveland. But they did get still all superstar shooter Isaiah Thomas in return and maybe more to join vets like downtown big Brook Lopez, K.C.P. and the milk carton of Luol Deng.
Even some of their young, South Bay Lakers affiliates have come up big like Ingram. From son of the glove, Gary Payton II, to Alex Caruso ending the season starting at the point with Ball at the baseline sidelines. Even Travis Wear has gone from 10 days to shooting the contract three like Mike Penberthy.
Yet one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the season has been the Kuzmania (time to get your t-shirt) of the Kuzmanian devil, Kyle Kuzma. From a Nick Young jersey zero to one of the top ten Rookie of the Year heroes. From Summer League to preseason and now his regular one exit interview, K has had just as good if not better rookie year than his number two running mate with the second pick in the NBA draft.
And from bringing the Kareem sky-hook back to rocking the number nine Nick ‘The Quick’ Van Exel Champion jersey pregame, the kid is a throwback like the Clarkson fashion taking over chinchilla coat he rocks as he walks into STAPLES. But now Kuz wants to take that old school trend setting to Inglewood, like when he drove a burgundy 70’s Cadillac DeVille to an iconic parking lot for a recent feature shoot for SLAM magazine.
Kyle thinks the Lakers should play a game in the hallowed halls of The Forum next season.
And as much as we like the lights out downtown future of STAPLES (or as much as T-Mac warned him about the vintage facilities on ESPN’s The Jump) we couldn’t agree more for a league that loves to pay homage to their hardwood classic history like Mitchell and Ness.
Joining the Forum club again like when Magic and Cap made the 80’s Lakers ‘Showtime’ and put the Hollywood in basketball would be a nostalgia trip, especially for the clubs President. It would make a nice 20 year plus comeback (save 2009) after new millennium rival San Antonio swept them right out the stadium in ’97. This is the Lakers Boston Garden. Their Spectrum. Their court coliseum. And those marble pillars over red still stand strong like the statues of the greats from Chick to Elgin outside STAPLES.
Besides ‘Bron and P.G. would love it.
Time to get those baby blue MPLS jerseys ready.
And don’t forget about ‘Dre.
Lakers Statue Preserves The Ice Of Elgin Baylor’s Legend
“Elgin should be here”!
That’s what the ever humble hero of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jerry West said when the famous franchise unveiled Mr. Clutch’s statue back in 2011. That’s what the actual, still to this day logo of the National Basketball Association said about his symbolic teammate in his signature moment. The ‘Ice’ to his dynamic duo nicknamed ‘Fire’.
And now seven years sealed later Mr. West joined recent bronze brothers and goliath giants Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and President Magic, as the storied Lakers franchise finally gave the 82 year old Elgin the epic ending his Hollywood career deserved in engraved writing.
The number 11 in SLAM magazines recent ‘Top 100 Players of All-Time’ issue, whose 22 already belongs in the rafters with all the aformentioned, both of Oscar winner Kobe’s digits and all the other Worthy Laker legends now joins Shaq, Cap, Earvin and Chick in stone setting. So much so that the Lakers will soon run out of places outside STAPLES to put their legends (especially if they give Kobe two statues). At this rate if he does come over they may have to put LeBron over in the Nokia Theatre’s parking lot. That was just a joke King…please still exile from The Land.
Without Baylor we may have not had the Dr. J. like high-flying legends of M.J. or King James. As this guy revolutionized the dunk aswell as his sky-hook impossible to guard hanging jump shot that brought career averages of 27 and change, hung with around 10 boards. And this guy stood at a Chuck power move mound rebound like 6, 4. It was this kind of offensive arsenal that set the tone with a back in the day greatest one-game point total of 71. Before Laker great Wilt’s 100 stunted that in Philly, generations before Kobe tried to beat all that with 81 (the Mamba man via video tribute telling Elgin he stole so many of his moves, “it wasn’t even funny”).
Legendary Lakers Pulitzer beat writer Jim Murray-whose L.A. Times behind the desk deserve their own statue next to Chick-compared Elgin’s Empire scaling career to King Kong. Knocking away defenders like bi-planes, who roach scattered like bust up craps games. But Baylor was more to this game then just Hollywood Laker flash. One of the first African American sports superstars in Jackie Robinson’s time also lead a Players Union protest before the 1964 All-Star, which truly changed the game and gave these players the rights they have today. After he hung them up he also won an ‘Executive Of The Year’ award across the hall with the rival L.A. Clippers. R&B superstar Elgin Baylor Lumpkin, better known as Ginuwine was also named after the Hall of Famer and called a judge character off his coming of age album ‘The Senior’ after the NBA great who starred alongside both the Jackson 5 and Buck Rogers. Don’t believe us read all about it in Baylor’s new book named after the best damn Basketball drama, ‘Hang Time’ that will be put up on shelves to end this month.
Elgin Baylor was the blue and white/purple and gold, post-Mikan and pre-Wilt Laker bridge between Minneapolis and Los Angeles. So it was only right his multiple arm dunking statue was curtain called at the half between a Lakers game with Minnesota. It wasn’t fitting however that donned in Mamba snakeskin black L.A. lost 113-96 to the Timberwolves with the black tux service of Jimmy Butler’s draped 18. An Elgin epic like 20 and 10 from both Lakers future Julius Randle and rookie Josh Hart (actually 11 rebounds) weren’t enough after Kyle Kuzma left the game in the third with a sprained ankle. Neither was big from downtown seven footer Brook Lopez’s starting 15 that was so tight it tagged ‘Lop3z’ Twitter trends.
But by the end of this almost 82 game closing playoff push it wasn’t all for the win, but the 82 year old that changed the game.
When you think of the golden days in Lakers purple, Baylor made this franchise like he did their storied history.
All you need is the record books to read his story.
Will Three ‘LABron’ Billboards Outside Downtown L.A. Lead To A Hollywood Ending For The King?
Hollywood comes calling…
…but still no decision…
…how come King James?
‘Dear Basketball’ last month Laker legend Kobe Bryant won NBA’s first Oscar (yeah I know how can the Academy not award ‘Space Jam’?). Putting number 24 ahead of number 23 in gold statues (the Mamba still trails the G.O.A.T six to five in gold rings though). When the closest STAPLES normally gets to award showcases outside the hosted All-Star game during the February love in is when they take a break to host the Grammys.
But it looks like another 23 could make another Lake Show stopper move this Summer straight out of the script of tinsletowns biggest picture.
Despite a decision that took his talents from South Beach, back home and to the promised land years ago. Cleveland’s own LeBron James may be playing his last campaign as a Cavalier. And the final chapter of his storied career could have a Hollywood ending for the King with one of NBA histories most storied franchises.
It could be ‘La La LeBron’ in Lakerland’s city of stars.
Especially if some billboards outside downtown Los Angeles have anything to do with it.
Taking a cue from ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ Best Actress Oscar winner Frances McDormand’s movie (who the actress sent up herself with Jimmy Kimmel with her own trio of billboards after someone stole her Academy Award. Don’t worry she got it back like the Cavs want ‘Bron), a superfan in Los Angeles set up some real estate with some advertising hoardings like Paul Rudd in ‘I Love You Man’ (“License To Sell…that’s hilarious!”) hash-tagging the new free agent trend of ‘LABron’.
Three other towns have hung ‘Bron billboards with an outside chance of landing the King. From his Akron birthplace who refuse to witness throwing rocks at the King this summer, declaring “There’s No Place Like Home”. To even hilariously a New Zealand ballclub wanting to turn the King into a Kiwi. But Philly started the process first. Although L.A. doesn’t want James to trust this but believe instead in the banners that could hang in the royalty of their rafters. Along with they hope his number 23 one day for the one who is still in his prime at a Kareem jersey age.
And when the King was in town to witness all this last month he put on a show in President Magic’s city of Showtime. From the best damn no look pass of his career period. Which drew go fetch tennis ball, dog owner comparisons. To bounce passing the ball between Ball of all players legs.
And with a Lakers/Cavs deadline day trade that saw L.A. and Cleveland clean house and land for LeBron. Further fuel has been ignited to the ‘Casino’ like behind the jersey talk that has everyone betting on ‘LeBron Ball’ for the ‘Lonzo Angeles Lakers’.
The Lakers may have lost two of their sharpest shooting, youngest guns in ‘Sixth Man’ sure-thing Jordan Clarkson and all dunking Ohio son Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland. But they now have All-Star I.T. support. However whether LeBron reunites with former Cav superstar Isaiah Thomas remains to be seen in more ways than one.
It’s all up in the smoggy air of the summer breeze atmosphere whether Christmas will come early for tinsletown. Like whether another hometown hero superstar Paul George will leave the Thunder and align with the King in the city that never rains (but reigns in purple like Prince), to help make the Lakers young core of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and Ball be all they can be right now.
Then that will be something worthy like James to hang on the three pillars of Hotel Figueroa outside STAPLES.
The City Of Angels will be praying these billboards bring banners.
Only in Hollywood.
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