Nickens Outduels Pinson Out West (And did somebody say Papagiannis?)

As I was perusing the Maryland Minute the other day, as is a part of my daily routine, I clicked on the link talking about Georgios Papagiannis, the MD target, and Greek import playing high school ball in Pennsylvania. The article also mentioned that he was going to be playing in the Under Armour Holiday Classic out here in San Diego. Now as a lot of us on TT know, Papagiannis is teammates with our very own Jared Nickens (JN), who will of course be a freshman next year at MD. I told my father about it, and he, being as rabid and passionate as I am about anything and everything MD related (he's a '71 grad), quickly agreed that we should head out and watch our commit, and current target, in action.

So on Saturday night we decked ourselves out head-to-toe in MD gear, and headed out to Torrey Pines High School to watch Westtown take on Wesleyan Catholic, led by Theo Pinson, the #19 recruit in the country according to Rivals, and a UNC commit. As a preamble, before I get into a more comprehensive breakdown of Jared and Georgios' on court abilities, I want to offer up what was a big testament to Jared's reputation off the court as well. We were able to talk to the wife of the Westtown coach, a brother of one of the players, as well as one of the assistant coaches. Before they talked about Jared as a player, they all stressed what a GREAT kid Jared was. I know we need our recruits to perform and shine on the court, but it was great to hear that Coach Turge and crew are recruiting great young men to represent the program.

Now, on to a game recap. Upon seeing Jared out there in the court, it was very apparent how slender he was. Now this is not uncommon for that age group, and I fully expect our world-renown Strength and Conditioning program to remedy that and add some more muscle to his frame.

In the first quarter, he was pretty quiet. He had a couple of really nice passes, but didn't seem to be looking for his shot much. However, he did hit a three in the final minutes of the quarter that touched nothing but net. This seemed to light a fire that would burn bright in the second quarter.

In the second quarter he exploded for ten points. He drained two more threes, and hit one running leaner off the backboard as well as a medium-range jumper. He really found his stroke and settled in. The second three came as the final seconds of the half were winding down, and he hit it from about San Francisco to give his team, who had been trailing for the entire first half, some much needed momentum. He bested Pinson not only in points for the half (13-9), but also in the leadership department as well. Both players were clearly the best players on their respective teams, but couldn't have handled themselves any differently. Whereas Pinson whined and moaned for every call and arrogantly strutted and hot dogged all over the court (he'll fit in great at UNC!), Jared exuded a quiet confidence in his leadership that seemed to really hit home with his teammates.

The coach of Wesleyan, sensing that they had their hands full with Jared, put Pinson on him to start the second half (He also, along with all the coaches on his staff, and many of his bench players, would yell "Shooter!" every time Jared got the ball beyond the arc, alerting his defense to step out on him). Showing a complete and utter disregard for his new defensive matchup, Jared came out firing in the third quarter against Pinson, leaving little doubt that he had certainly found his stroke. He poured in eight more points in the quarter, on another couple of threes (one right in Pinson's grill I might add!), and a sweet fade away jumper from the elbow. He has such a pure stroke, quick release, and range for days, as again, both threes came from well beyond the arc.

The fourth quarter was much of the same. JN was able to nail two more threes, and drain a short jumper. His team really looked to him to carry them down the stretch, and he bore the mantle. His contributions not only on the scoreboard, but in huddles and in between plays really shone through. One very interesting play occurred with just under four minutes to go, with Pinson guarding him just inside of half court. JN made a move toward a screen, and Pinson flopped all the way to the ground (and I mean flopped like he had been shot by a cannon). JN completely ignored the acting job and was still able to facilitate the half-court offense for Westtown. At the next dead ball Pinson immediately made a bee line toward the ref to whine and plead his case. I just thought it was a microcosm for the game as a whole. Again, it was clear JN and Pinson were the best players on the court, and it was nice to see JN just focus on strapping the team on his back, while Pinson's behavior stood in stark contrast to that, whining for every call (again, he'll fit in great at UNC with those theatrics). Boosted by the play of JN, Westtown stormed back from what was as much as a ten point deficit, and ended up tying the game on a last second three. On that final play, JN was triple-teamed.

In OT, JN played more of the role of facilitator. Taking advantage of the fact that everyone was keying on him, he was able to get his teammates more actively involved. He did hit one shot in OT, a soft floater in the lane that tickled the twine. In the end, Westtown came away with a 70-66 victory. He finished the night (unofficially): 31 pts. (12-20 FGs, 7-12 3-PT FGs), 2 Rebs., 1 Block, and 2 Assists.

Overall, I was VERY, VERY impressed and encouraged by JN's performance. Coming in with a class that has him pegged as the fourth best out of four really makes me feel good about the talent we're bringing aboard. He showed great leadership, and was very calm, cool and collected as his team leaned heavily on him throughout. He moved off the ball very well, and used his body nicely to come around screens to give him a lot of good looks from three (This is huge news for our TERPS who DESPERATELY need all the shooters, especially three-point shooters they can wrangle). As I mentioned, he has an incredibly pure stroke, and can hit from well beyond the arc. He seemed very athletic, and the guy who has a brother on the team said that in the previous game he had taken a 6'9" player baseline and tomahawked it home. He was also able to create his own shot off the dribble pretty well, to give himself some good looks. He's also a very adept passer, and seems to have a very high basketball IQ. In fact, on two occasions he gave the PG some relief, and took the ball up the court.

On the "needs improvement" side of the ledger, I'll say this, and keep in mind, it's definitely nitpicking. I would like to see him become a better ball handler. There were a couple times where his handle was a little too loose and sloppy. He got away with it against some of the lesser players from Wesleyan, but it will need to be tighter and crisper in the B1G. He wasn't very active on the glass, which with his length and athleticism he should have been able to take more advantage of. A factor here could be that Georgios was clogging the middle most of the time. He also needs to be a little more physical with the ball. He allowed himself to be hedged horizontally a few times, where it looked like he could have gotten more vertical heading toward the rim.

Now, for a little on Papagiannis. He definitely seems like a project. A worthwhile project, bear in mind, but a project all the same. As we all know though, you can’t teach seven feet. The Westtowners we spoke to said he can hit the three and the mid-range jumper. He missed his only three and about six mid-range jumpers, as well as a few short hooks. He looked to have good form, but not much touch. He also was unable or unwilling to back down any defenders. He scored predominantly on put backs and short-range shots off of passes. He committed a couple of early weak fouls, but overall did block or alter a good number of shots. His rebounding was fair, not very strong hands at this point. He hardly looked to pass at all. The majority of his points, rebounds and blocks seemed to come from the fact that he’s a seven-footer. When I mentioned to the Westtown coach’s wife that MD was also inquiring about Georgios’ services, she smiled and said, "Yeah, Maryland and just about every school." So it sounds like it will be a dog fight to land him, although all Turge has to do is direct Georgios’ to the #5 draft pick in the most recent NBA draft as a blueprint for his success in bringing along a foreign big man (and DeAndre Jordan as well, even though I know he’s not foreign).

All in all, it was a great night of basketball, and I came away very pleased with JN’s game, and his future in College Park.

***Fun side fact: The coach of Wesleyan Catholic was our very own Keith Gatlin!!

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