It’s a lightly drizzling Thursday evening and the temperature is slightly chilly by Tallahassee standards.
For many students it’s time to wind down and begin homework for the night.
After all, the semester is quickly nearing its end and some students will begin to find themselves pressed for free time as they start cramming for finals and wrapping up term papers.
But on this evening, James Nichols, a 20-year-old business administration student from Milwaukee, Wis., has made a commitment to go to the Jake Gaither Community Center and lead a practice for the T-Town Express, a 14-and-under AAU basketball team he coaches.
Nichols has only been coaching the Express for the past six months, but he said he has always had a passion for coaching since his days of playing basketball as a youngster.
“Coming up playing basketball, I wished I had a certain type of coach,” Nichols said. “I felt like I could give back to the game of basketball by coaching some young people myself.”
His coaching experience includes coaching an inner-city tennis team and the Tallahassee Rockets in the Tallahassee city basketball league.
Nichols said one of his Rockets players referred him to DeVoine Gibson, the head coach of the AAU program Nichols coaches for. Gibson eventually gave Nichols control of the 14-and-under team after seeing what he was capable of doing with the players.
“He’s definitely head coach material,” Gibson said. “He’s a leader and the kids respect him. If they don’t respect you, they won’t play hard for you.”
The level of respect Nichols receives from the kids is a product of the discipline he applies.
Raised by a military mother, Nichols said he lets them know upfront that they’re there to have fun, but also to take care of business.
Angela Turner’s 15-year-old son Terry Johnson plays for the Express and she said it is Nichols’ demand for respect that has earned Nichols her admiration.
“He interacts well with the parents and the players,” Turner said. “He gives everyone a chance and I think they should be good with him.”
It is his interaction with the team that keeps the players energized. Nichols’ northern vernacular, such as his repeated use of the word “son,” (“Make a better pass, son.” “Get lower on defense, son.”) easily amuses the Express players.
Nichols even reverts back to his basketball-playing days by participating in the practice, using a hands-on technique to teach the game.
Nichols starts this practice with a stretching routine.
They work on their conditioning by running line drills and he teaches them how to properly slide their feet on defense.
Next, he goes over a couple of their offensive sets before he turns them loose for a scrimmage.
D’juante Tucker, 13, one of the shortest members of the team, appears to be one of the bright spots of the scrimmage with his accurate outside shot.
He said he likes to come to practice because he wants to get better, but he especially likes practice because he likes being around Nichols.
“He has a good personality. He’s calm and nice,” Tucker said. “The best part is when he makes us start over to get it right. But that’s a bad thing because if we mess up, he makes us run.”
For Nichols, the biggest thrill of coaching is seeing a player like Tucker, who wants to get better, develop his game.
“Some of the players came in and couldn’t dribble with the left hand, and to see them able to do that now feels good,” Nichols said.
Taking responsibility of kids who are young is key in helping to shape them not only as players, but as young men as well.
“It’s kind of hard because you’re fighting what they see on TV, but I take a lot of pride in trying to teach these young black men the right things,” Nichols said.
“My mom and other people influenced me the right way, so I want to give back and help these young men out.”
Upon graduation, Nichols said he won’t be ready to give up coaching. He plans on pursuing a college coaching position, but if that doesn’t work, he has a back-up plan.
“I’ll go out into the sports agent world, start my own agency and get a few players,” Nichols said. “Then I’ll retire at 30.
Contact LeMont Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org