One On One With Austin Nichols

One of the newest names on the 2013 recruiting board is Tennessee big man Austin Nichols. Playing his AAU ball from Memphis based YOMCA, Nichols is starting to get all kinds of high major exposure and a number of schools have come calling. Including Duke.

TDD: Have you always lived in the Memphis area?

Austin Nichols: No, my dad drives 18-wheelers as a profession and he lived in Chicago for awhile, and then moved down to Tennessee after that. He drives trucks all over the place to cities like Oklahoma City, Cincinnati and Atlanta. I've lived in Memphis for a long time though.

Being a long time Memphis native, are you a big BBQ guy? What's your favorite spot on Beale Street?

See, that's the thing…Beale Street is real famous and there's a lot of well known places on that street, but I've got a couple spots that are off Beale Street that I really like. Especially Corky's. They have the pulled pork there and their dry rub ribs with no sauce are just delicious.

You're not a sauce guy? That must be controversial in Memphis?

Yeah, I'm just not a big sauce guy, plus the dry rub they use on their ribs and pork, it's just the best. It doesn't need sauce.

How are you handling the increase in recruiting attention now that you've got over 20 offers, and have a lot of high major schools knocking on your door?

I've always dreamed growing up of having the opportunity to play Division 1 athletics, so I try real hard to take it day by day. Honestly, I do not get too wrapped up in it because I want to weigh all my options honestly. My thing is what happens if a school offers me really late and I commit early, I've taken myself out of having an opportunity to maybe play at a better school. I feel like I have until next summer to decide and I've talked with my parents and we know that I have to pick the best program for me.

In talking with various players over the years, there is usually a coach or two who plays a role in a player's decision or helping them through the recruiting process. Is that the case with you and your coaches from YOMCA or Briarcrest?

I'm very fortunate that all of my coaches know that it is my decision and that me and my family are primarily going to be making the decision on where I'm going to go. They all do a great job of leaving it up to me and they just ask me what schools I like and that kind of stuff.

When you say they ask what schools you like, is that in response to schools that are indicating interest in you to your coaches, or is it more so you telling them these are programs that I like and let me know if they are showing interest?

It's a combination of both to a certain extent. A lot of what I tell my coaches why I'm interested in programs is because I'm dealing with the facts that the coaches are presenting to me and to my family. Like with Tennessee, I had the opportunity to go on an unofficial visit there and spend some time with Coach Martin and the other staff members and they shared a lot with me about the program, so it's information like that that I evaluate schools on.

You mentioned schools that you already knew that you liked. Who are some schools that you've made an effort to watch over the years?

You won't believe me when I tell you this, but I've grown up to watch whatever was on ESPN. I always watch the ACC just because they are a powerhouse conference in college basketball, but I watched a lot of teams growing up.

So which schools in the ACC have caught your eye?

Definitely Duke and UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and just lot of the East Coast schools. All those schools are known as really good ACC programs.

So when you've watched whatever was on ESPN, do you find yourself evaluating the schools and teams?

More recently, yes. Like with UNC and Duke, I've watched Tyler Zeller and the Plumlee brothers. I pick out their characteristics, see how they play and how similar or different it is to the way that I play, but I also watch how they interact with their teammates and with the coaching staff, like they do they talk back to their teammates or coaches, I look at a lot of different things.

How much do you pay attention to what is said about a program, either positive or negative in terms of media perception(s)?

I'd say that it is a factor, both my personal opinion matters and I do listen somewhat to what people say about programs and how they do things. If I hear somebody say something negative about a program, I have to think about it, but I don't base my entire decision off of what somebody says to me, have to think about it for myself.

As a recruited athlete do you see the negative coming more from opposing coaches or just the media?

I don't really hear it from coaches at all, they just tell me about their program, what they have to offer, and that kind of thing. But I do hear negative things about schools in the media, but I do try hard to think for myself about that stuff.

Your dad mentioned that when you look at schools that you want to go to a place for four or five years that has a good degree program and good basketball. Have you always envisioned yourself as a player who would go for the full time that you can in college and develop?

Yes, I've always seen myself as going to college, getting a good degree and graduating and get a good job after college. It's also important to me that I go to a program where the coaches have faith in me as a player and in my abilities to be a part of the team and to be a good player, plus, it'd be really nice if they have faith in Jesus Christ, that's a big deal to me.

Some college coaches are known for being very open about their faith. Are you finding that to be the case with the schools recruiting you?

I would say the coaches that have been the most open with me about their faith in Jesus Christ has been Coach Bennett at UVA and Coach Martin at Tennessee. I was talking with Coach Bennett the other night and he told me that he really liked how open I am with my faith and he was talking with me about the book of Acts and how he's been in Acts Chapter 5 recently and what he's been learning from that book. He came in the next day to watch me practice, and it was great seeing him there knowing that he's a coach who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. With Coach Martin at Tennessee, when I went on my unofficial visit there, we were walking around campus and talking and he just started talking about many Bible verses that have meant a great deal to him and his family.

How do you handle knowing that there may be coaches who say they have faith in God but yet their coaching style may be a bit rough around the edges? How do you respond to coaches who are very direct and honest with you?

I think it can be a positive and a negative to be honest. If you are a person who can't handle someone telling you the truth, it won't be a good situation for you as a person in that program. My coaches are honest with me about how I can get better as a player, and that's a good thing.

Envisioning yourself as a four year player in college, how do you feel about schools who while you are there may bring in post players who are considered by many to have the opportunity to go pro after a year or two?

The thing I know that it will make me do is make me work VERY hard. I know that if I'm going for four years, I'll get better as a player through being exposed to good coaching. I've never thought of myself as a selfish player who wants it to be all about me, I recognize that it'd a good situation where I'm a good player in a program surrounded by great players.

=How then do you evaluate what's a "good fit" for you as a player?

Well, I really look at the way they run their offense. That's a major part of the decision. Also, what kind of players do they have coming into the program, what kind of leadership is in place with the players, I try to look at the whole picture. Another thing that I think about is what is the student size in classrooms, that's important to me too. Some people say that being close to home might be a good thing, but closeness isn't the overriding, major part of my decision, but it is something I'm thinking about.

Does that mean that there are schools that are just too far away then for you to consider them?

Well, in my opinion, I know that my mom and dad want to be able to come to games, so for schools that are in the Pac 10 and Big 12, that's a long way away from home, so that's something that's going to have an impact on my decision because my parents want to continue to come to as many games as they can to support me when I get to college. It doesn't mean that I won't consider schools that are on the East Coast, it's just something I'm looking at.

Earlier you mentioned Duke and North Carolina. What was your reaction when those two programs began upping their interest?

Well, neither one has offered me as of yet. UNC has come in and watched me practice before and Duke has come watch me practice and have told me they are going to start recruiting me more. I've always dreamed about having the opportunity to one day talk with Coach K and the Duke program and I've also dreamed of having the opportunity to one day play for a program like Duke. They are one of the best programs ever in the powerhouse conference that is the ACC, if you have the opportunity to go to Duke, you have the chance to play for Coach K, and you are only going to get better playing in an environment like that, where they bring in the best players in the country every year."

How much communication have you had with Duke?

Well, I've talked with Coach Collins and he's told me that he wants to get me on the phone with Coach K, but Coach Collins said they really like how I play and they want me to come watch a game or two this season.

How about with North Carolina?

Well, UNC is one of the top basketball programs in the country like Duke is and it's a real honor to be recruited by them. At the same time though with Duke and UNC and every other school, they all have a chance, have to consider them equally.

Given your comments about the ACC earlier, would an offer from either Duke or UNC be somewhat of an event in your recruitment?

I would say that it is a factor, but it's not the only thing I'm thinking about. I mean, it's a dream of mine to play for a national championship and if you have the opportunity to play at a program like Duke or UNC, it could potentially be hard but at the same time, you are surrounded by the top players in the country and to have a chance to play for the national championship every year, that's a good thing.

Some guys like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond where they are the man from day one. Other players like the opposite. Where do you fall in that discussion?

I've never thought of myself as a guy who wants to be the center of attention, I like the idea of playing on a really good team with good players, and going in and getting my degree.

With your recruiting progressing and several high majors coming in, where do you see the process taking you from here?

You won't believe this, but I truly did not have a college I was leaning towards before my recruitment really got going, now I'm trying to come at it from a neutral, balanced perspective. I'd like to narrow it down to a Top 5 sometime next year and I want to make a decision by next summer if possible.

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