Jamal Nichols was finest player the Philadelphia Public League had to offer in 2001. He won the Markward Award as the Philadelphia Public League Player of the Year that season. He averaged 15.0 points and grabbed 13.5 rebounds per game his senior year at Ben Franklin High School. Now… I didn’t really know him while he was a schoolboy standout, but I certainly knew of him.
Nichols committed to play for Phil Martelli and the St. Joseph’s Hawks. Right after he committed, the late great John Hardnett brought him to see me. He told Jamal Nichols, “if you ever have any issues or questions about any school shit talk to Del.” With that, Mal was my youngin… Once he arrived on Hawkhill, Martelli asked me to “tutor/mentor” Nichols and a freshman guard from PG County named Delonte West. Big 5 HOFer Pat Caroll was the other member of that notable recruiting class.
Nichols, West and I met on average 2 or 3 times a week regularly… I kept my finger on their academic pulse while serving as a sounding board as they vented their intense basketball frustrations. Martelli’s Hawks were loaded, as a result, that was a tough year on the court for the rookies, Nichols, West and Carroll.
Martelli decided to redshirt Nichols. West and Carroll, while active, were trapped behind Big 5 Hall of Famer, Marvin O’Connor and PUB legend Naim Crenshaw. Nichols and West were not pleased with their predicament. Two or three nights a week, I had to hear “we bussing they ass Del… they can’t fuck with us. I don’t know why Phil won’t play us.”
“Man… y’all freshmen… Those guys are good… shut up! Wait your turn…”
Way beyond impatient, Nichols and West wanted to play ahead of established upperclassmen like Bill Phillips, O’Connor and Crenshaw.
Wasn’t gonna happen… Martelli wasn’t doing that…
“Chill out fellas…”
“Mannnn… fuck that…”
West begrudgingly waited his turn. So did Carroll. Nichols, however, went the JUCO route after being suspended for a semester. All three became really good college basketball players. West and Carroll are Big 5 Hall of Famers…
Nichols spent his one season at Riverside (Calif.) Community College where he averaged 17.4 points and 8.3 rebounds. The following year, he played at Globe Tech in New York, N.Y. where he averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds and was selected to play in the National Junior College Division I All-Star game.
Each and every step of the way, Nichols faithfully kept me abreast of his academic progress. Nichols is no bookworm, far from it. But he is highly intelligent… Wicked smart as they say in Boston… He always paid close attention to academic requirements at each stop and made sure he steadily progressed toward a Bachelors Degree. Basically, he didn’t fuck around… He piled up his credits…
After graduating Junior College, Nichols signed to play basketball at DePaul University for Blue Demon Head Coach Dave Leitao prior to the 2004-05 season. After one season at DePaul, a frustrated Nichols turned professional. He spent more than a decade playing in Europe and the Middle East.
After his playing days ended, Nichols settled down with his family and began working with students with significant autism support and emotional support needs. Nichols provided educational, behavioral and clinical services while helping students reach their full potential. His advancement in this field was hindered by his lack of a bachelors degree.
He never stopped thinking about completing his own academic journey. Frequently, we would discuss his son’s educational progress and placement. Ultimately, Nichols and his wife enrolled him at Friends Central. Like his Daddy, Nichols’s boy is wicked smart. Inevitably, the discussions would always wind back around to Nichols completing his bachelors.
The challenge was finding a path that could work with his intense work schedule and heavy family responsibilities. We explored Rosemont, Eastern, Cheyney, Arcadia, Cabrini and some other online programs trying to find an affordable path to completion of the bachelors degree. None of them worked financially.
Then one day, I suggested that he reach out to DePaul. That was the last school he attended. He played a full season and left in good standing.
“Maybe, they’ll let you finish there…”
“Hit up the AD and explain your situation… Brother came from Kentucky, I heard the he’s a good dude.”
In August 2020, DeWayne Peevy became the new DePaul University athletic director. Peevy has been Kentucky’s deputy director of athletics for the last six years and has been with their athletic department for the last 12 years.
After a few raw and honest conversations, Peevy helped Nichols identify a path toward a DePaul degree. The two have formed a friendship. When the Blue Deamons came to town to get spanked by Nova, Peevy and Nichols met up and discussed his progress. It should be noted that, DePaul basketball has never wavered from their initial promise to take care of Nichols made nearly 20 years ago.
That’s all Nichols needed, an opportunity. Nichols has taken full advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, he was recently named to the DePaul University Dean’s List for the Spring Semester.
I’m not surprised… Not at all… Like I said, the young man is highly intelligent.
The game ain’t over… But it’s first and goal on the one.
Nichols is in “beast mode”… He’s handing that shit off to Marshawn… fuck that goal line slant pass!
Book it… That’s my lil’ Bro!