MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Darris Nichols started his basketball career at West Virginia University, but now the former Mountaineers’ standout will be battling his former team from the opposing bench on Saturday.
WVU travels to Gainesville, Fla. to battle the Gators in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Florida is now the place that Nichols calls home.
He was hired as an assistant coach over the summer by Florida’s first year head coach Mike Smith.
Smith and Nichols linked up following one season coaching under White at Louisiana Tech, where the Bulldogs won the Conference USA title.
Just seven years after graduating from WVU, Nichols is already moving up in the coaching ranks. Prior to a stint at Louisiana Tech, Nichols coached at Wofford and Northern Kentucky.
But his coaching career started in Morgantown under head coach Bob Huggins, who hired Nichols as a graduate assistant in 2011.
The former Big East star believes his success has just been a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“Maybe getting lucky, being in the right place at the right time, Nichols said. “I know a lot of it has to do with winning. When you win people group you as a winner so I think everybody wants to be associated with guys that have had a history of winning. I think that takes care of itself and it means a lot, a chance to move up.”
Nichols scored 993 career points and dished 399 assists while shooting at a .375 clip from 3-point range. He averaged 10.7 points per game as well as 3.2 assists per game during his senior campaign with the Mountaineers, where WVU made a Sweet 16 run.
Nichols played under both John Beilein and Bob Huggins. He finished his college career as a top five most winningest player in Mountaineer history.
So on Saturday afternoon, Nichols will take a trip back to the past. While it will be an emotional day, it isn’t one that is unfamiliar to him.
“It won’t be as emotional because it’s the road,” he said. “A few years ago when I was at Northern Kentucky and I went back into the Coliseum, I got really emotional there seeing the guys that coached me, that I work with. I get a chance to see them a lot during the summer time, but obviously I haven’t played against them but I will be emotional, more excited than anything.”
Nonetheless, Nichols is still looking forward to battling his alma mater.
“Honestly I am looking forward obviously to seeing all those guys that I don’t get to see on a regular basis, guys that helped me, that I played with a few years ago,” he said. “Also with us coming off a loss, I’m excited to see how we respond.”
The Gators are fifth in the SEC and post a 13-7 record. They are coming off a 60-59 loss to Vanderbilt.
This season has been one of many ups and downs for the Gators and their fans. Losing a coach like Billy Donovan isn’t an easy act to follow, but in time Florida should get back on top.
“I would say our biggest problem right now is inconsistency,” Nichols said. “We will win two games and lose one. And kind of go back and forth like that. That’s the hardest part, just trying to get a team that is consistent every night.”
A win against WVU, would help Florida get back in the swing of things and what better way to do it for Nichols than against his former team and one of the winningest coach’s in basketball.
Nichols doesn’t speak much to his former head coach and mentor during the season because of their busy schedules.
“I talk to the assistants a little more,” he said. “Huggs is always running and always going, doing speaking events and has practice so I kind of leave him alone during the season.”
But that doesn’t mean Nichols doesn’t appreciate Huggins. In fact, he credits the Mountaineer coach for being where he is today. Huggins taught him the value of relationships in the game of basketball.
“Just the way he goes about relationships with people, I think that’s a big reason why I am here right now,” he said. “Just through relationships with my boss Mike White. He worked through Andy Kennedy (Ole Miss head basketball coach) for years, so through the whole Huggins and the Andy Kennedy connection. There is a relationship right there. He just taught me the value of developing relationships.”
Saturday will be an emotional day for Nichols and some of his former coaches, but the moment Billy Hahn and Nichols connect on the court, it will lighten things up.
“You might try and look down there and see what play their running, try to hear them call out plays,” Nichols said.” And Billy Hahn call out plays so I am pretty sure when Billy Hahn sits in that first chair and I look down there he will probably start laughing. I am looking forward to that.”