HE was a star immediately upon arrival at the South West Slammers in 2015 but Tre Nichols is a far more well-rounded player now and that’s purely down to the remarkable hard work he puts in to ensure his time in Bunbury is worth the sacrifices he is making.
Nichols joined the Slammers ahead of the 2015 SBL season immediately taking the league by storm following his college career at Boise State and then playing in the American Basketball League with the West Texas Whirlwind and Central Texas Rhythm.
He arrived in Bunbury with a reputation as a dynamite scoring guard and lived up to the billing as an instant MVP candidate helping lead the Slammers all the way to the grand final in 2015.
Nichols averaged 28.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals that season and backed it up with another 28.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 2016 even if the team results weren’t quite there.
Scoring was never a problem for Nichols. He was the fastest player in the league, likely the best ball-handler and nothing could stop him getting to the rim. That is what the Slammers knew they were getting with him when the Texan arrived in 2015.
But the Nichols of 2017 is much more than that. He is still just as quick and dynamic as ever. But his shooting is now much more consistent. His passing is game-changing and he has the ability run the Slammers’ offence at lightning speed or even when slowing it down in the half-court.
His defence might once have been a weakness, but is now a strength of his game as well and after being an MVP candidate based on what he did offensively, Nichols is now in the running for the 2017 award because of his all-round game.
The improvement from 2015 to now is purely down to the remarkable amount of work that Nichols continues to put in on his body and his game, and his mental aptitude.
Having got so close to a championship in his first season in the SBL, going all the way this year with the Slammers would cap off the three-year journey in Bunbury perfectly for Nichols.
“I definitely feel this team can win it all, that’s why we assembled this group. Unfortunately Ben Smith went down with an ankle injury early but we believe in each other and believe in our principles that we can get this thing done. I think we will be real dangerous down the stretch coming into playoffs,” Nichols said.
“It honestly would mean the world to me if we were able to do it. We’ve put in so much time and sacrifice where some of us have been away from families where we’ve put hours in the gym to try and find our way.
“Getting there in 2015 and coming up short left a bad taste in my mouth and in Clive and Brian. It would be an honour and complete satisfaction if we could get it done, but we know how hard it’s going to be.”
Nichols has dedicated himself to the Slammers for the past three years now since arriving in 2015 and the ability to spend that much time working on his game and body has had the benefits that are plain to see.
However, by staying in Bunbury in the hope of earning citizenship that now doesn’t look like eventuating, Nichols has had to make the ultimate sacrifice of living the other side of the world from his young daughters.
His parents have spent the past month with him in Bunbury which has been tremendous for him, but not being able to see his daughters day in and day out has without question been tough.
“My parents coming out here has been a huge blessing. Just to perform for them and have them out in the crowd just gives me that satisfaction of knowing they are proud parents,” he said.
“Some people know that I have two little girls back home so being away from them for this last run it has been a full year without me seeing them.
“That sacrifice has been the hardest barrier to try and deal with and cope with, but it’s helped me stay strong mentally. It’s helped me learn so much about myself and it just goes to show that the sky’s the limit and anything is possible if you are that dedicated to working for it.”
Given the considerable sacrifice Nichols has made to be in Australia the past three years, he has made sure he has thrown himself 100 per cent into working on his body and game to make sure he gets the absolute most out of basketball that he can.
That’s the only way those sacrifices would be worthwhile and it’s hard to imagine seeing any player in the country who spends as much time combined in the gym, on the court, on recovery and working on his game than Nichols.
“It does take a lot of hours in the gym I have to be honest. A lot of players want to be better but don’t really have the work ethic for it, but if the work ethic is there then the sky’s the limit for any player. It’s just about getting in the gym and actually wanting it,” Nichols said.
“There’s always someone out there working harder than you so my mentality is that I don’t want to be left out because I could have worked harder.
“At the end of my basketball career, I don’t want to say it was because I didn’t work for it. I leave everything on the line after every practice, every game and every gym session to get my game and body to where it needs to be. The work put in will hopefully pay off down the line.”
Nichols might receive some good-natured ribbing from his teammates for the fact that he’s virtually either in the gym, on the court or working out in some fashion.
But he simply wouldn’t have it any other way than giving himself every chance to go as far as he possibly can with his professional basketball career.
“I’m probably in the gym two or three times a day whether that’s on the court, on the track or in the weight room. Whatever it is, I’m constantly working on something and that’s been key to me. My recovery too has been a key factor in my performance and I take that very seriously,” he said.
“I was beating myself up a lot last year without the proper recovery tools but that’s another mental growth knowing how important recovery is.
“But I’m always working hard just because I know it will pay dividends in the end. I don’t take anything for granted and I leave everything on the floor, and let my game speak for itself. Wherever that lands me next it’s a blessing.”
Nichols has now become an outstanding leader and all-round player with the Slammers, but it’s his back court combination this season with veteran Michael Lay that has been instrumental in South West now contending for a top four spot after starting the season 0-4.
“Mike just knows the game so well and we hold each other accountable every day in practice. We push each other and go at it, and if you stepped in to see our practices we are going at it like mad dogs,” Nichols said.
“But that only makes each other better. It’s just a lot of positive criticism from him and he just makes everybody around him better which makes my world a lot easier because he actually knows the game and what he’s doing, and he’s been there and done that. It helps balance the entire team.”
But it’s the combination of veteran big man Clive Weeden and hustle machine Brian Voelkel that Nichols sees as the real heartbeat of the Slammers team again in 2017 as they were in the grand final appearance of 2015.
“Clive is a good guy and an amazing player for us. He is one of those guys who will run through a wall for you, he’ll put it all on the line and give it everything he has. You need a player like that on your team and he brings that for us,” he said.
“Brian is just flat out in everything he does and he does it all. His energy alone and his tenacious, dog mentality is just one in a kind. It’s a weird game that he has, but he just gets it done.
“He is a mad man who gets it done and we love it. He just brings that grit about the whole team and we have to calm him down a lot, but we need that type of grit on the team. He does it all and we appreciate everything he does.”
When Nichols himself reflects on the improvements and growth he has made from when he first arrived in Bunbury in 2015 to now, he is proud of the all-round player he now is as he weighs up where his future lies once a hopeful big playoff run with the Slammers is completed.
“I think I’ve grown a lot mentality but also physically I’ve worked hard on my body over the off-season to find out where I can capitalise and improve on some of my weaknesses from that first season here. But more so mentality I think I’ve grown a lot,” Nichols said.
“I’ve also learned to let the game come to me more and my defensive mentality has definitely picked up, which I’m happy with and we are actually having fun on defence now. Once you start having fun on defence it’s dangerous for the opposition because that creates our offence.
“As far as shooting, that’s all about consistency and getting up reps in the off-season. I try to stay mentality locked in when shooting and it’s all muscle memory.
“Then knowing what pace to go at during the game, that steps in with my mental side and knowing if we’re in transition, drive and kick, kick it ahead or slow it up. Whatever it is, that’s the mental side that has been evolving each season I’ve been here.”
Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)