Chris Nicholson looks like an athlete. He looks like a basketball player, and he plays the part particularly well, especially on the defensive side of the court.
Defense is Nicholson’s game. It’s where he’s making his name.
“Where I make my difference is on defense, so I play hard on defense every night,” said the 6-1 Mattituck High School junior guard.
In terms of individual play, defense may be one of the most underappreciated aspects of a player’s game — beyond what his coaches and teammates think. A player’s defense isn’t outlined neatly in a scorebook or flashed on a scoreboard. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
Mattituck has some fine defenders, such as Xavier Allen, Ryan Seifert and Trevor Poole. The Tuckers’ best defensive player, though, is Nicholson, said coach Paul Ellwood.
Allen, a fellow junior guard, readily agrees.
“He’s not just the best defender, he’s the most athletic,” Allen said of Nicholson. “If someone turns the ball over, especially himself, if he knows he made a mistake, he’s going to run back faster than anyone on the court. I can’t catch up to him. In practice, in sprints, he’s always beating everyone by a lot. He’s just fast and strong.”
Nicholson’s defensive ability is something a coach appreciates and values.
“If we’re pressing, he’s on top of the press,” Ellwood said. “He’s very fast. He takes great angles. If we’re in a 1-3-1, he’s on top of the 1-3-1. When we play teams where we play a triangle-and-two or a box-and-one, he takes the other team’s best player. He’s just super fast. He’s a tough player, good instincts. He’s got long arms. His reach is longer than it appears. He gets a lot of deflections. So, yeah, he’s just a dynamo. He’s just constant energy. On many nights he’s played 32 minutes and he never asks to come out. He’s in tremendous shape. He can run all day.”
Nicholson, whose sister Emily is a freshman guard for the Mattituck girls basketball team, is drawn to defense. He said he enjoys it. Typically, he’s assigned to guard the opposing team’s best player. He said he derives the most pleasure from the game when shutting down a player.
“I’m defense in soccer, defense in basketball,” Nicholson said. “I feel like on defense you just got to try hard and play smart … My coaches have told me to work hard and never give up. Really, that’s all it is.”
Nicholson averages 4.9 points per game, according to Newsday. He scored a season-high 12 points against East Hampton Dec. 7 and twice had 10 (against Southampton and Babylon).
Nicholson was feeling a little under the weather Monday night when he had two points and two rebounds — all in the first half — in a 90-51 loss at Center Moriches. Afterward, he said he was “a little sick, but you got to play through it.”
Ellwood has seen enough of Nicholson to know what he consistently brings to the team. The coach said, “He’s having a great season.”
Photo caption: Mattituck junior guard Chris Nicholson, attempting a layup against Pierson earlier this season, is the Tuckers’ best defensive player, according to coach Paul Ellwood. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)