(Baltimore Sun photo by Doug…)
It was a departure met with major media coverage and ample blog and message-board discussion. Typically the parting of ways between a pro basketball team and a player scoring seven points a game wouldn’t be dissected at such an intense level. Drew Nicholas, however, is not your typical overseas player.
In the nine years since Nicholas finished his Maryland career, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard has won multiple championships and scoring titles for some of the premier franchises in the Euro League. So when Nicholas and Olimpia Milano decided last month that it would be mutually beneficial to go their separate ways, the former Terp admitted “it was a pretty big story.”
But despite the premature end to his season in Italy, Nicholas says there are “no hard feelings.” In a nine-year career filled with highlights in the U.S. and abroad, the most recent development in Nicholas’ journey is just a minor blip on an otherwise incredible basketball resume.
The two signature memories of Nicholas’ college career – his buzzer-beating 3 against UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament, and his role on the Terps’ 2002 national title team – remain unforgettable moments in Maryland basketball history. And for thousands of hoops fans in Italy, Turkey and Greece, Nicholas is easily one of the top shooting guards of the past decade.
“I’m really happy I’m able to get to this point,” Nicholas said. “It was such a big process … going from the second division in Italy to a really small team in the first division to the best team in Italy to a better team in Turkey, and finally getting to the top in Greece. It’s been a while.”
Nicholas, 30, is back in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., enjoying his time at home and concentrating on “getting my body right.” Being back in the states earlier than usual also gives Nicholas a chance to watch as much of the NCAA tournament as he wants, and enjoy almost constant reminders of when he and the Terps were all alone at the top.
Nicholas arrived in College Park during the summer of 1999 after a decorated prep career at Long Island (N.Y.) Lutheran. The wiry freshman got significant minutes off the bench right away, and finished his first year at Maryland averaging 5.1 points and seeing action in all 35 games. Sophomore year was more of the same, with Nicholas scoring 6.6 points per game and appearing in all 36 games.
After Maryland’s devastating Final Four loss to Duke in 2001, Nicholas and his teammates came back to College Park the following fall with a championship-or-bust mentality.
“I think everybody on the team really realized that even though we were losing talent like Terence Morris from the team, you kind of saw how good we could be,” Nicholas said. “We were still young and full of potential. With everyone getting a year older, a year more experienced and us still having Lonny [Baxter] to rely on, we felt we just had a great chance. Not many times a situation comes up like that.”
Nicholas’ role expanded with averages of 7.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 20.5 minutes. In the Terps’ national-championship win over Indiana, Nicholas was as reliable as ever, scoring seven points while making five of his six free throw attempts.
Maryland wouldn’t repeat as national champs in 2003, but the Terps’ Sweet 16 run featured one of the most memorable game-winning shots of all time. Down 73-72 to UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Nicholas took the inbound pass, raced up the court and launched a fall-away 3 that dropped in for a 75-73 Terps victory.
“First of all, it’s a great feeling just knowing that I’ll be part of NCAA history, at least for awhile,” Nicholas said. “As years go on, different guys hit different big shots. Time passes and guys seem to fade off a little bit. The season was almost a decade ago. It still seems like people still remember my shot. They hear my name and recognize me. A lot of times people like to tell me exactly where they were, stuff like that. It’s always pretty cool when I get to relive that and see the replay. It’s kind of surreal to me.”
After 103 wins and a senior season in which he averaged more than 17 points, Nicholas embarked on his pro career with a spot on the Orlando Magic’s summer league team. Despite not playing much, several teams expressed interest in adding Nicholas to their training camp rosters. But Nicholas was realistic about his future.
“I knew the chances of me making a team were probably pretty slim,” he said. “I was going to be a roster guy for the first couple of days or weeks, something like that. Pretty much right away, after the summer league, I talked it over with my agent immediately [and] we started [looking into] Europe.”