Former Orlando Magic 1st round pick Andrew Nicholson’s game has become well respected in China
By Tom Ballato
Andrew Nicholson’s basketball career began his junior year of high school in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario. He got into the game of basketball late, but his game developed quickly.
The talent showed as he was named Most Valuable Player in five different tournaments throughout his short high school career. He ended up committing to play for St. Bonaventure in Olean, New York.
He was a physics major and spent a lot of time when he wasn’t on the court in the classroom or lab. To give the game all he had, he took classes in the summer to get ahead of his studies to lighten his course loads during the spring and fall semesters.
His freshman year, he was named Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year in 2009. He averaged 12.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per contest. He followed with a strong sophomore campaign averaging 16.4 points and 7 rebounds per contest. He earned first-team All-Atlantic 10 his junior season.
St. Bonaventure won the A-10 Tournament and went on to the NCAA Tournament during Nicholson’s senior year. He played a large role in the team’s success and was named 2012 A-10 Player of the Year. Nicholson also earned A-10 All-Defensive Team, A-10 All-Championship Team, and was the A-10 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Performer.
When speaking about his fondest memory at St. Bonaventure, Nicholson responded, “Honestly just winning the A-10 Championship. It was something that I’ll never forget. It was the first time in history St. Bonaventure has done that. Being part of that team and to do that was just surreal.”
The Orlando Magic saw promise in Nicholson and selected him in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft with the 19th pick. Andrew was part of the Orlando Magic’s rebuild and he was a part of St. Bonaventure’s rebuild also, so it was something he’s experienced.
He spent four years in Orlando and when describing his time with the team, Nicholson said, “Being part of the Magic during their rebuild gave me a lot of time to get better. I was surrounded by guys that wanted to get better as well too. It was amazing.”
At the end of his fourth season with Orlando, Nicholson became a free agent. He signed a four year deal with the Washington Wizards in 2016. After 28 games, he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for Bojan Bogdanović and Chris McCullough. When asked if it was a difficult season, Nicholson responded, “It honestly is part of the business. I did my job to be able to get that second contract. I guess the Wizards decided to go in a different direction. Playing the league for five years, you see people come and go and you start to understand that some of the guys you are with, may not be there the whole time. It was just part of the business.”
Following the season, Brooklyn traded him to Portland, who ended up waiving him.
Nicholson took his game overseas to China, a move that has paid huge dividends. In 2017, he signed with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
His first year he put up 22.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He also shot 42.7% from three, something that he improved on from his time with the Magic. It was an adjustment for Andrew getting used to a new country, but it allowed him to grow his game and individually also.
As an import in China, Nicholson uses one-year deals as a platform to play at a higher level. After a successful first season in the CBA, he signed to play with the Fujian Sturgeons for his second season in China.
He helped Fujian improve to 7th place, six places higher than the previous season. His production on the court improved. Nicholson averaged 26.9 points and 9 rebounds per game and continued to shoot at a high percentage behind the arch.
This season, he played for the Guangzhou Loong Lions, which marks his third season in China. Guangzhou Loong Lions participated in the NBA preseason this year. Nicholson played two games back in the United States against the Philadelphia 76ers and his former team the Washington Wizards.
The Loong Lions are off to a rough start this season, but Nicholson continues to perform. In 26 games, he has averaged 26.2 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Matt Houston, the strength and conditioning coach for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, said, “Andrew Nicholson is a tough player. He can shoot it, put the ball on the floor, and (he) dunks everything. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Nicholson has enjoyed the journey and is embracing his role in China. He returns home to Canada each summer and runs a basketball camp. The camp is called 44 Hoops and it services kids ages 6-14. Andrew spoke about his camp and voice, “For me, it is about giving back. I do this to show kids the value of using basketball to get them an education. We want them (the kids) to be professionals on the court and as well in the classroom. I’ve done it and I want kids to see that they can use basketball to achieve their dreams.”
As far as the rise of Canadian born players getting drafted and playing in the NBA, Nicholson said, “It’s really is amazing to see how much of a stride Canada has made in terms of having more players in the league. It just goes to show we are getting better as a country. The stars that have played here, we grew up watching them and also have the (Toronto) Raptors here. It just shows that it is possible. It all started with Steve Nash and that gave us inspiration as a country.”
Since we last saw him in the NBA, Nicholson has continued to stay in great shape and expanded on his game. He is doing a lot of things he did in the league, but at a higher level because he’s playing more.
Every season in the NBA we see players come and go. But just because we don’t see them play in the NBA doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of them or they aren’t competing at a high level. Andrew Nicholson averaged six points and three rebounds per game in his five NBA seasons.
Will we see an NBA comeback? It could be in the cards, but for now, Nicholson is enjoying China, a country that has given him more opportunities to expand himself as a player.