* McDonald’s All-American
* No. 2 small forward and a five-star prospect by Scout.com
* Member of the 2010 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team
* Voted Mr. Basketball by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches
All that, and more, led to a logical trail featuring Stillwater as little more than a brief stopping point on the way to the NBA.
Ah, but plans do change. Things happen. The express lane slows, the road twists and turns.
And now here’s Nash, on track to graduate and preparing for his fourth season as a Cowboys starter, still working on his game and his ultimate OSU legacy.
“It’s all positive for me,” Nash said. “I just take everything in a positive way. It’s what the Lord wanted me to do, get a degree and graduate. That’s a part of this for me, too.
“Yeah, I’m loving it. I’m enjoying my senior year. And I can’t wait until the season starts.”
Nash arrived at OSU talking longingly about the NBA and his desire to get there ASAP. But almost from the outset, it became clear that he needed time.
Maybe not four years’ time, although Nash has used each season with the Cowboys to grow his game and himself.
It’s not like Nash was a bust. He was voted Big 12 Freshman of the Year and named to the Big 12 All-Rookie Team, after scoring 372 points, the fourth-most in school history. His 13.3 scoring average ranks as the second-highest by a freshman in OSU history.
But even those numbers didn’t match up to the massive hype heaped upon Nash’s shoulders and the expectation that he carry the team. In addition, he struggled with body language at times and his production was wildly inconsistent.
So after Year 1, he came back.
And he’s continued to come back – for the better. And Nash is eager to make this his best season yet.
“Everybody wants to have a great senior year,” Nash said. “And I’m one of the guys trying to have one. I just feel like this team can really thrive off me, if I’m going great. If I struggle, then the team’s going to struggle. I think we’re going to have a good year. That’s the way I feel.
“So every time I go in for a workout, I try and show the team that I’m serious about this, because I really want to win. I’m tired of falling short. So I’m trying to give it everything I’ve got and make sure every one of my teammates does the same.”
That speaks to a new role for Nash, as a captain and a leader; a vocal leader.
Somewhat quiet and reserved on the floor in the past, Nash recognizes that if the team is going to thrive around him, he needs to get them all aboard as one of the few veterans on a young squad.
“That goes with senior leadership, being a captain,” Nash said. “If you’re going to take a step into the limelight of being a captain, you’ve got to talk more. I used to just talk when game time came. Now, I’m more into practice and workouts, running and conditioning, I’m talking all the time.
“I feel like these guys look up to me. And they listen to me. And they expect a lot out of me. So I’m trying be a captain and lead these guys the best I can in the right direction.”
Nash’s transformation extends to the floor.
After playing more in the post a year ago, using his athleticism to work around more mechanical big men, Nash will slide back into a more natural role as a small forward.
To accommodate the move, suggested by coach Travis Ford, Nash trimmed up in the offseason and summer, dropping 10 pounds to become quicker for his new matchups. With Cobbins and 7-footer Anthony Allen available to play the post, along with freshman Mitch Solomon and an improved Marek Soucek, the plan is for Nash to expand his game to mid-range jumpers and taking defenders to the hole in one-on-one situations.
“Nobody can stop me from going to the rim, so I’m going to attack the rim,” Nash said. “It’s a mindset now.”
First, Nash had to get his body set, accomplished through work and better food choices.
“I worked out every day, had a good diet,” Nash said. “I didn’t eat junk food. I really ate healthy, ate a lot of salads. I ran a lot and worked out a lot. It was every day.
“I need to be quicker to guard wing guys and be able to move fast. So it’s more about losing weight to get quicker and lighter on my feet.” It’s all resulted in what Nash believes to be the best shape he’s been in – ever.
“It’s hard to get me tired,” he said. “That’s where I want to be. I know I’m going to need to play a lot of minutes this year, so I know I need to be in better shape to run up the floor more and play 35-plus minutes.”
Nash isn’t the only one noticing a difference. His teammates are raving about the change, too.
“I’m seeing a whole different man,” said fellow senior Michael Cobbins. “He’s taking his game to a whole different level. And he’s getting serious about his game, too. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays this season.
“He’s just really matured.”
The maturity of being in school and in a program for four years. And accepting sticking around and working, too.
Through it all, Nash kept working. Kept accepting coaching.
While his scoring average has remained relatively static, ranging from 13.3 as a freshman to 13.9 last season, his offensive game became more efficient. His field goal percentage has jumped from 39.4 to 46.2 to a Big 12-best 52.0 a year ago. And he pulled down a career-best 5.5 rebounds a game.
When needed to help fill a size void last year, Nash embraced playing in the post, just like he’s all in on the move back to the wing now.
The first-year Le’Bryan Nash might have sulked and pouted if asked to fill an uncomfortable role. Looking back, Nash said he wasn’t prepared for all that awaited him as a freshman.
“I was one of those young guys who got all the hype, but I didn’t know the college game,” he said. “And I didn’t have anybody to tell me about it until I got here. Then it hit me in the face. I’m like, ‘Dang, this is college basketball, they really play hard.’
“And I adjusted to it. I’ve learned so much every year and become a better player every year. It’s got me through my junior year. I’m having a great season and I’m trying to help my team win. I’m going to play as hard as I can. I’m playing defense now, rebounding the ball. It’s just the little things that have helped me out.”
One of Nash’s biggest improvements: consistency.
Where he would often follow big games with disappearing acts, he’s now reliably productive.
And he’s front and center on OSU’s radar.
Marcus Smart and Markel Brown have gone on to the NBA. Kamari Murphy and Brian Williams transferred out in search of greener pastures.
Finally, this has the look of Le’Bryan Nash’s team. And this time, he’s ready for it.
“I’ve got big goals,” he said. “Me and my coaching staff always talk about it, ‘Have a good season, have a Player of the Year season. All-Big 12. Basically have an All-American season, to help this team win.’
“I’m working as hard as I can on the court to be one of the best players, not only in the Big 12, but in the country. I’ve learned from these past three years. I think I can be one of the best players. And that’s what I’m striving for every time I step on the court, to show everybody in this country that I got better.
“I’ve gotten better every single year. And I think I can have a big senior year and help this team win games.”
This time for Nash, there is no next year.
“He better be hungrier,” said Ford. “I told him, ‘You don’t have a choice. No, ‘Let’s do it next year.’ This is it. There are no excuses, no shortcuts at this point. To me, that’s a great position to be in for him. I’ve been in those situations before, you get a chance to prove yourself.
“I like what I’ve seen. He’s had good workouts, very good workouts. We just need the complete game, the complete player from him, and on both ends.
“This needs to be the best year he’s ever had.”
They say things happen for a reason.
In Nash’s case, things didn’t happen, not according to original plan, anyway.
And it still may work out.
“I’m loving it. I’ll never regret anything,” Nash said. “I always look at the positive. I’m a positive person. Going into my senior year, all I can think about is graduating. I talk to my mom all the time and she says, ‘Well, you’re graduating, so you should be happy about that.’
“And then being here for four years, I’ve learned so much and gotten better. I’ve gained experience. It’s all positive.”
NOTE: THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE WINTER 2014 ISSUE OF GOPOKES MAGAZINE