It's hard to win championships without bench scoring, and it's hard to win championships without reliable three-point shooting. In sophomore Jared Nickens, the Maryland men's basketball team figures to have both.
Before Maryland secured a commitment from blue-chip transfer guard Rasheed Sulaimon, Nickens figured to have the inside track on a starting position this year. He played 48 percent of Maryland's minutes last season, shooting a silky 39 percent on three-pointers and averaging 6.1 points per game. After Melo Trimble, he was Maryland's most efficient player by offensive rating, posting a 113.4 mark that placed him in the top 300 players nationwide.
At Maryland's basketball media day last week, Nickens sat with Testudo Times for a quick interview. Here's what he said. The conversation is ... wait for it ... lightly edited for clarity:
Testudo Times: With all the pieces you guys have this year, at least from the outside, one of the things that comes to mind is, "Hey, Jared might be open in the corner a little bit for three-pointers." Could that be something that happens a bit this year?
Jared Nickens: Yeah. We have a whole bunch of weapons. We have a lot of talent, and anybody on our team could probably start elsewhere. But we all chose to come here because we all have that same goal in mind, but we just try to focus on not caring who gets the credit, and I think that'll take us a long way. So as long as we keep that mindset, we'll probably be the best team we can be.
TT: This time last year, you came in as a freshman with Melo Trimble and Dion Wiley, and you got tattoos together and you were a very close group, obviously. Now that you're a year into this thing, how has your relationship as a group grown, and how are you guys the same or different now?
Nickens: It's grown, of course. We're with each other every day. But it's grown because of our IQ for the game; we've gotten smarter, and we can now help each other more so than we did last year. Last year, we were just thrown into the fire, kind of, not knowing really what was going on. This year, we know what to expect, what's about to happen, so now we can just kind of guide each other along and help each other out, and teach each other certain things.
TT: It seems like, even with Rasheed coming in, that you guys haven't worried so much about your own minutes, your own roles. I know, especially with you and Dion, you guys are shooting guards. But it seems like you have taken it well. How's that adjustment been?
Nickens: It's been going well. We don't really think about minutes. We just compete in practice, try to push each other, make each other better. And I know when Rasheed first came here – like, before we got here – I texted him and told him I'm excited to learn from him, because I know his background and where he came from, and I know he knows a lot about the game. Day in and day out, I talk to him in practice and tell him to just keep talking to me, and I just learn a lot from him, and I just watch him every day.
TT: And what strides do you think you've made in your game over the offseason?
Nickens: Just got more comfortable with the ball, become more efficient on my shot. And I just have to work on my motor and continue to always play hard, be a better defender and rebound more.
Last year, Nickens played almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter. As a result, his turnover rate was a remarkably low 6.8 percent of possessions on which he ended up with the ball, but he only took 42 two-point shots (against 146 three-pointers) all season. This season, expect to see a more rounded-out, balanced game from Maryland's sophomore.