Fundamental Forward

Some big men have imposing size. Others have great athleticism. Briarcrest power forward Austin Nichols has an exceptional pair of hands.

Nichols doesn't make basketball any more difficult than it needs to be. The 6-foot-9 rising senior posts up. He catches the ball. He turns and puts it in the basket. Nothing fancy or cute.

But it's in this simple efficiency where Nichols separates himself. His touch around the basket is special. His hands are soft and his shooting angles creative. Nichols has made a niche for himself by stripping away the extraneous aspects of the offensive game and perfecting its most basic shot: the lay-up.

"The game comes down to putting the ball in the basket," Briarcrest coach John Harrington said. "What does he do well? He puts the ball in the hole."

While scoring from six feet and in looks easy, it's a little more complicated than just deciding to do it. Nichols has gifts few young post players do.

First, Nichols can shoot comfortably with either hand. In fact, Harrington says Nichols is ambidextrous – writing with his left hand and shooting jumpers with his right.

From there, Nichols has a reliable half hook which allows him to score from different angles.

"Austin understands the game well," M33M AAU coach Ernie Kuyper said. "He's fundamental. He understands how to pass. He has a right and a left. He knows how to play basketball. He's a kid you want on your team. He's going to make everyone around him better."

Nichols' simplified approach has been extremely successful during his high school career. He led the city of Memphis in field goal percentage each of the last two seasons, making over 70 percent of his shots.

Harrington likens Nichols to Kevin McHale, not for the Celtic great's complex post moves but rather his efficiency around the hoop. A more recent comparison for Nichols is one closer to Carolina fans' minds. Harrington and Kuyper quickly drew the connection to Tyler and Cody Zeller due to Nichols' ability to get up and down the floor.

"He's unbelievable around the post but running out in transition … He can run like a deer," Kuyper said. "I usually don't talk crazy but he's special. He's a special kid."

While Nichols' strength is in the post, his coaches think he could make a noticeable jump in the coming months. Harrington says Nichols' post game is the equivalent to a young pitcher with a devastating fastball. At this point, no one can hit it so why throw a curve?

This summer, he'll start showing off that second pitch.

"He's got a great stroke when you watch him shoot it," Harrington said. "If I would let him, he could probably shoot five threes a game and make two."

Harrington said during scrimmages this summer, Nichols shot more three pointers in a week than he did the entire previous season.

For his AAU team, Nichols will likely focus on his mid-range shooting game which is already solid.

"The big thing this summer is going to be he and (M33M guard) Robert Hubbs just picking and popping and then just playing off mismatches," Kuyper said. "Going to the post when you've got a four on you. Bringing them out when you've got a five on you."

Kuyper says it'll be his and Harrington's responsibility to make sure Nichols makes the next step in his development.

"We've just got to get him more reps in games and in practice," Kuyper said. "He has it. We've just got to (let him) show it more."

Nichols also has adjustments to be made on the defensive end, according to Harrington. For Briarcrest, Nichols is almost exclusively a shotblocker and his coach would like to see him become more complete as a rebounder and on-ball defender.

"He's not quite the rebounder I want him to be but that's because he's out contesting every shot. So it's hard to contest and then come back and get the rebounds," Harrington said. "He needs to get rebounds outside his area."

Austin Nichols Profile

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