The Best College Cager You've Never Heard Of

Steve BankoContributor IJanuary 14, 2011

16 Mar 2000:  The Mascot for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies performs during the NCAA Midwest Tournament First Round Game against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The Wildcats defeated the Bonnies 85-80. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

He labors in relative obscurity in the Atlantic 10 in the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains in southwest New York State.  He only gets in to the bright lights of major markets like Philly or New York City or Washington DC as a visitor.  He doesn't look much like a basketball player, with feet that look too large for his slump-shouldered body. 

But when the ball is thrown up for that first tip to start the game, it won't be long before most of the eyes in the house are focused on St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson.

A preseason All-Atlantic 10 first team selection, the 6'9" junior is one of the nation's leading scorers, racking up 18 straight double doubles and being one of the best Division I players you've never heard of.

Nicholson hails from a Toronto Ontario suburb and wasn't widely recruited; that fact has salvaged whatever hint of notoriety still assigned to the once nationally known Bona basketball program. 

In an epic four overtime battle with Ohio University, Nicholson played every minute of the game and dropped 44 points, including five in the fourth OT, on the bewildered Bobcats.  He did it on 14 for 19 shooting from the field and 18 for 25 from the foul line.  But that kind of production has a price. 

Nicholson was visibly fatigued in the third overtime and uncharacteristically missed four free throws in a row.  He also accounted for 12 rebounds, five assists and a steal.  His performance overshadowed a remarkable game turned in by Ohio's D. J. Cooper who tallied 43 points on the afternoon.

But the lanky Canadian is no stranger to fatigue.  He's a marked man in every defense he plays against and routinely fights through double and triple teams, just to get his hands on the ball.  When he does, Nicholson uses some extraordinarily long arms to reach around, under, and over defenders.  He has a deft touch reminiscent of the shooting of Bona legend and NBA great Bob Lanier. 

In a often seen sequence of Bona's possessions, Nicholson will use that big wing span to score from in close and when the double teams start to impeded his inside game, Andrew will drop step and hit soft buckets from anywhere inside the foul line.  Nicholson is a good rebounder but could use a few more pounds on his slight 235 pound frame. 

In another overtime clash with the Hokies of Virginia Tech, Nicholson played 41 of the game's 45 minutes, his time reduced by cramps.  Still, he hit nine of 19 from the floor and three of four from the charity stripe for his 21 point total.  His string of double doubles was broken when he gathered "only" eight boards.

Opponents have caught on to what fans outside of Olean, NY have yet to grasp—Nicholson is a bonafide star in the major college basketball galaxy.  He has the full repertoire of big man moves around the hoop and has good range with his 15-foot jumper.  He's a tiger on the boards but could use some help. 

He's averaging well over 30 minutes of playing time a game, something that might wear him down as the long season heads toward March.  His supporting cast is improving but as yet inconsistent and that allows defenses to concentrate way too much on Nicholson but he takes it in stride.  St. Bonaventure might not be making too much noise on the national mid-major level, but Andrew Nicholson gives them a chance to win every time he steps on the court.