Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
There was something missing from Jared Nickens’ resume.
Before he headed off to Maryland, beginning his career in the Big Ten, the senior at the Westtown School needed to accomplish something else first.
“I wanted to go to Maryland saying that I’ve won something,” the 6-foot-6 swingman told CoBL.
Now, when he arrives on campus as a Terrapin in just a few short months, he can certainly say he’s a champion. Nickens had 18 points as Westtown cruised to its second Friends’ School League title in the past three seasons, 65-39 over Academy New Church.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Nickens, who was at St. Patrick’s (N.J.) when Westtown won its previous title. “A lot of my good friends from the Class of 2013 had won something in high school, so I wanted to be one of those guys that won something before they got to college.”
Known early on as a pure outside shooter, Nickens has continued to build his game through his junior and senior seasons at the West Chester (Pa.) boarding school.
And while he did knock down a pair of triples in the first half, it was his six buckets inside the arc–all in the second half–that helped the Moose pull away from a game ANC squad.
“Jared has grown from being a really talented shooter to a really complete player that helps you win games,” Westtown coach Seth Berger said. “A shooter can get you in and out of games, a complete player helps you win games. Jared’s ball-handling, passing, defense, rebounding, communication have all gotten to a point where he helps us win championships.
“Without Jared we don’t win this championship.”
There was another member of the team who certainly came up big when his team needed him the most. Junior center Georgios Papagiannis, a 7-footer who’s drawn rave reviews since arriving from Greece over the summer, came oh-so-close to a triple-double with 16 points, 16 rebounds (seven offensive) and nine blocked shots.
With nobody on ANC’s roster standing taller than 6-6 Carnel Harley, Papagiannis was a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court, preventing the Lions from getting anything going inside and playing a big role in his team’s 47-27 advantage on the boards.
The Lions’ aggressive style ended up playing right into the Moose’s hands.
“We kept trying to attack the basket, which we teach our guys,” ANC coach Kevin Givens said. “But we’ve got to get them to understand when they’ve got someone 7-1 in there, you’ve got to stop and pull up, take the floater or the little five-foot jump shot.”
Papagiannis, a likely future NBA Draft selection, has been the subject of a lot of hype ever since his first appearance at the West Chester shootout back in October.
While his size and skill set alone have scouts and college coaches salivating as his potential, his production has certainly increased over the course of the year as well. On Tuesday night he showed off his full arsenal, catching lobs for alley-oops, making a few nice hook shots in the lane and most importantly being the defensive presence that any high schooler of his size ought to be.
“George has become a dominant defensive rebounding and shot-blocking presence while having the ability to stay out of foul trouble,” Berger said. “He’s learned how to use his length to contest shots without trying to block every single shot, and when you do shoot, he’s staying down much better so he’s becoming a great rebounder.”
Westtown (19-6, 9-0 FSL) came out in a zone defense, allowing ANC to work the ball around the perimeter and open up a 15-9 lead just 20 seconds into the second quarter. After that, however, it was all Westtown.
A switch to a man-to-man defense proved to be the key, as Westtown held ANC (16-8, 8-1 FSL) scoreless over the next 5:37, going on a 11-0 run and eventually taking a 24-19 lead into the half. The second half started with another 10-0 run by the regular-season league champions, and by the time the fourth quarter began it was all but over.
“We felt that we would do much better if we played them man-to-man, the question is when we were going to play man-to-man,” Berger said. “We come out man-to-man right away and we’re wrong, we’re down 12 and we’ve got a big problem.
“We were okay going into the second quarter with a close game. I told my kids, ‘I have a feeling going into the fourth quarter it’s going to be a six to eight point game,’ I did not expect us to open it up like that in the third quarter.”
It certainly helped that Westtown was playing on its home court, a last-minute resort after plans to play on a neutral site at Haverford College fell through. Add in ANC’s inability to get much practicing in–the school was without power from last Tuesday through Saturday, leaving the Lions with only Sunday and Monday to prepare for the game–and the Lions were facing an uphill climb even before the game began.
“I don’t want to push any blame on anything, it is what it is and sometimes you have to learn how to play through adversity,” said Givens, whose team has been in the FSL title game eight of the last 10 years, winning it all in 2009. “We think we could have waited and hopefully have gotten a neutral site, but that’s just one of those things.”
Both Westtown and ANC will participate in the PAISAA state tournament. Westtown, the top seed, hosts 16-seed Springside-Chesnut Hill, while seven-seed ANC plays host to 10-seed Penn Charter; both games are on Friday. CoBL will have a full preview of the tournament up before things get underway.