St. Bonaventure's Nicholson becoming extraordinary

Nov 19, 2010 - 4:30 PM Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Looking for Canada's top NCAA basketball prospect?

Sure, Gonzaga's British Columbian duo of Kelly Olynk and Robert Sacre have already made names for themselves on the national level. And then there's the Texas Longhorns' freshman tandem of Toronto natives Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph, who have made their impressions after outstanding high school careers, highlighted by consecutive national titles and invitations to the McDonald's High School All-American Game - a first for any Canadian.

But tucked away in the small gym at St. Bonaventure University in Western, New York, lies Canada's diamond in the rough - Andrew Nicholson.

The name draws a blank even amongst the most avid hoop fans, but, make no mistake, the Mississauga native should not be overlooked. After just two games, the former Father Goetz Gator has opened his junior year on an impressive tear, scoring 24 points per game on 64 percent shooting from the field, while averaging nine rebounds.

Though the fast start might seem like an aberration to some, with a quick glance into Nicholson's development with the Bonnies, it's clear he's a rising prospect.

In his freshman season in 2008-09, the 6-foot-9 forward was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year, averaging 12.5 ppg and six rebounds while shooting an impressive 60 per cent from the floor. He followed that with a stellar sophomore campaign in 2009-10, scoring 16.4 ppg while grabbing seven rebounda. He also raised his free throw percentage from 61 percent to a respectable 76 percent.

Playing for a small school, its understandable that Nicholson be overshadowed by his Canadian counterparts playing for big name programs, but the depths he has helped St. Bonaventure rise from deserves some attention.

Seven years ago, the school was involved in an academic scandal involving one of its players, Jamil Terrel, who had a welding certificate instead of an associate degree. Hit with severe NCAA sanctions, the program was all but decimated and left trying to rebuild ever since.

It's no coincidence that since Nicholson's arrival two years ago, the program's fortunes have changed drastically. In the forward's first season, St. Bonaventure finished 15-15 and made the Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time since 2005. Last year, the Bonnies went 15-16, winning a game in the A-10 tournament to finish a respectable eighth in the conference.

So it's fitting that Canada's potential hard-court savior has already gone through the process.

Through his superb play, Nicholson has garnered the attention of a number of NBA scouts, which have him ranked No. 21 among power forwards on ESPN's draft list.

How such a highly touted prospect went virtually unnoticed coming out of high school is yet another example of Nicholson slipping through the cracks.

He didn't start playing basketball until his junior season and missed the entire summer circuit prior to his senior year with a broken ankle.

In an even more bizarre twist, basketball wasn't always his sport of choice. Baseball was his original passion, but blessed with such size and athleticism he decided to pass on the American past time, opting for basketball instead. Only in his senior year did Nicholson receive any attention, as he was named to the Toronto Star High School All-Stars in 2007.

Why such a promising young player chose a school struggling to keep its program intact is another reason Nicholson's story is so refreshing.

Since high school, Nicholson has always expressed his passion for academics, especially in the sciences, which led to him being featured in the Toronto Star for his love of chemistry as a student at Father Goetz. The physic major's joy for the class room played a large part in why he chose St. Bonaventure, which opened a new science center in 2007. Plus the campus was only about 160 miles away from Nicholson's hometown.

With a bright future on the horizon, Nicholson is a living testament of St. Bonaventure's school motto - Becoming Extraordinary.

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