There was a time when Austin Nichols was stopped in his tracks.
“I filled my gas tank up with the wrong type,” he said. “I am pretty sure it was diesel gas and it really messed my car up. It’s funny now looking back at it but at the time it really wasn’t.”
A center for the Memphis Hustle, the Memphis Grizzlies’ developmental team in the G-League, Nichols has had his share of goofs.
“People who don’t know me, I don’t think they would expect me to be so goofy,” he said. “But I am laid back, like a big kid — just goofy.”
While in college, he changed his major from business to something he felt fit better — drama.
“I like improv, no script, just kind of be yourself,” said Nichols, whose teammates enjoy his humor.
Hustle guard Dusty Hannahs said, “We are always joking and laughing. He is kind of a prankster.”
It was a serious time in Nichols’ life when he decided to transfer from his hometown university, the University of Memphis in Tennessee, to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He had a lot of questions but few answers.
“I really had tested my faith there, exactly what I want to do and what my goals were,” he said.
At Memphis, Nichols played in each of the Tigers’ 34 games as a freshman and was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Rookie of the Year. A power forward, he averaged 4.3 rebounds, 9.3 points for the 2013–2014 season.
Success in college
As a sophomore he played in 27 games despite an ankle injury and improved his scoring to team-high 13.3 points per game and 6.1 rebounds, second on the team. His 3.4 blocked shots ranked third in the nation.
He was first-team All-AAC for 2014–15, the first Memphis player to make first team since the league was organized.
But after he moved to Virginia, he sat out the 2015–2016 season because of transfer rules. He went undrafted in the NBA Draft in 2017.
“In sports there are a lot of ups and downs,” Nichols said. “When I am going through a rough patch or a couple of downs, I look up Scripture to read to remind myself it is just a game. You are supposed to have fun and also learn from your circumstances.”
In the world, there are a lot of negatives — you have to learn to stay strong, he said.
“We are human. We all make mistakes and it is not what you do, it is how you bounce back from it and use the mistakes that you have in life to learn from the situation,” Nichols said.
His faith, which was nurtured by his parents, has sustained him from preps to pros.
“Jesus is my Lord and Savior,” he said. “He is everything. He is the Alpha and the Omega.”
While basketball is part of God’s purpose for him, Nichols said he has goals that are not hardwood-related.
“Basketball has something to do with it but I am still working on that. Being a better human altogether … just being a better brother, being a better son. … I think everything else will take care of itself,” he said.
Nichols surrounds himself with a friend group that provides accountability.
Hannahs called Nichols “a high-character person.”
“He is really strong in his faith,” Hannahs said. “You can tell by the way he plays — he trusts God’s plan for him.”
Hustle head coach Glynn Cyprien, an assistant coach at the University of Memphis from 2009 to 2011, has known Nichols since he was a college freshman.
“He is a big faith guy and he believes and stands for all the right things. As a coach, as a man and as a mentor, I am awfully proud of him,” Cyprien said. “He is so skilled. He knows how to play. He has a good basketball IQ. He has a great feel for the game. He is a talented player. Hopefully one day we will see him in the NBA because he has those skills.”
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