In recruitment process, Nichols not alone

In many instances throughout a prospect's recruitment, the player can lean only on a high school or AAU coach. In the case of 2013 Briarcrest forward Austin Nichols, he's got a strong family foundation upon which he can rely.

Mark Nichols works six days a week.

He puts in anywhere between 50 and 70 hours most weeks.

He schedules his off-day around his son, Austin Nichols, and whatever event he's playing in.

For September and the majority of October, Austin is playing in the Super 80 fall league, a local event held at Lausanne Collegiate School every Sunday that pits 80 of the best basketball players in Memphis against each other.

So, every Sunday, that's where Mark is — not catching up on sleep, but in the bleachers watching his 4-star forward of a son play basketball.

"I like to see him play and be a part of what he's doing," Mark said. "I think any dad would want to be a part of his son in any sport. This is a one-shot thing. Some day soon, he's going to be gone doing something else in college. I've got to take advantage of what I can."

In a sport that so often is associated with single-parent homes and gritty upbringings, Mark and his wife, Kim, has gone out of his way to ensure that Austin enjoys a better quality of life.

Often times, Mark chooses to work nights, instead of during the day, to be with Austin, who is a junior at Briarcrest Christian School (Memphis, Tenn).

"It's hard to do sometimes," Mark said. "Sometimes, it's pretty tough."

Mark isn't sure if Austin quite understands the hoops he jumps through to make sure he's there to support him at all stops.

For this proud pop, however, the sacrifice is well worth it.

"He doesn't realize it because he doesn't know what it's like to stay up all night," Mark said. "But that's OK. I do it because that's where my heart's at."

At 6-foot-9, Austin Nichols is skilled and runs the floor well. He alters shots and is savvy around the rim. He's being recruited by Memphis, Florida, Texas, Duke, and plenty other schools.

Entering his junior season, Austin's recruitment is just heating up. College coaches are allowed to call him once a week, but Mark Nichols knows how overwhelming and distracting constant communication from coaches can be.

In order to avoid his son losing focus from his schoolwork, Mark has volunteered to take half the coaches' phone calls.

"He is a 16-year-old kid, you know," Mark said. "I just feel like if he has too much on his plate, put it on mine. He's just a kid. That's kind of what I've told him. Don't let it become overwhelming. It should be fun, we can make it fun."

If his dad didn't take some of the calls, Austin said, he'd probably get burnt out.

"More than burnt out," Austin said. "It's important that he takes half the calls and takes a little off me. Since he's getting most of the calls, it allows me to free up time and get my homework done."

Their relationship is not a complicated one, Austin said. Mark supports his decisions. Most importantly, Mark allows him to make his own.

"He stands behind me in everything I do," Austin said. "The main part, he keeps it up to me. He doesn't make decisions for me. That's important for a majority of the recruitment process."

Not that Mark doesn't give his input.

During each game Austin plays in the Super 80 fall league, Mark takes his own stats and, after the game, lets his son know what worked for him and what didn't.

Mark said has no interest in coddling Austin and acting as if he has no areas to improve on.

"I think I'm his biggest critic. I know he's pretty good, but I know we got a long way to go," Mark said. "I just always point out the things he needs to work on. That's what you do. That's all there is to it. That's kind of the way I've always been with him."

Austin's ultimate goal is to earn a roster spot in the McDonald's All-American Game. In order to get there, Mark said, those around Austin will have to be honest about his deficiencies on the court.

"Honesty is what makes you better," Mark said. "That's just the way I am. Sometimes he's got upset with me. After he thinks about what I'm saying, he realizes I'm right usually. Honesty, to me, is the only way."

College coaches from University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner to Florida's Billy Donovan have stopped by Briarcrest in the past month.

But as the process has sped up and become more hectic, Mark said he and Austin have only grown closer.

Austin's mother Kim and his twin sister Ashley have also been supportive of the 6-foot-9 forward.

"I couldn't ask for a better kid," Mark said. "He's been a treat to raise. His mom's done a great job, but he's the best. He's the best kid. I couldn't ask for any better kid."

Although Austin's decision is at least a year away, Mark said, the experience up to this point has been enjoyable.

"It is a humbling experience," Mark said. "I just thank God every day, just to be able to go through this process with him. It is a very humbling experience."

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