March 1, 2009
by Pete Spiewak `10
Interest from NBA teams is growing. The likelihood of him winning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is growing.
The one thing that is not growing is Ahmad Nivins' ego.
This season, Nivins has improved every aspect of his game. Scoring, field goal percentage, free throw shooting, rebounding and minutes played are all up from a year ago.
But the humble 22-year-old from Jersey City, N.J., is the same respectful and self-admittedly goofy kid he has always been.
"That has to do with how I was brought up," said the easy-going big man. "My parents have done a wonderful job with me -- I don't think I'd be half the person I am today without my parents."
This year, he is averaging 11.4 rebounds a game, up from just 5.8 rebounds a year ago. The difference, Nivins says, is the change in his approach to the game.
"It's the mentality that I have [this season]," he said. "Every time a ball goes up -- that's my rebound, or I'll at least have a hand on it. I figure, if I play with that aggression and that energy it will rub off on my teammates."
He's not motivated by the individual recognition he receives or by the impressive numbers he puts up. Nivins only does it for the team.
"It's about doing what the team needs," Nivins said. "It's not about, and has never been abou,t me scoring as many points or grabbing as many rebounds as I can. It's just about me being the man in the middle, and the senior captain leading by example, and doing whatever it takes for the team to win."
One of the knocks on Nivins coming into this season was that the 6'9" forward was limited to playing the post. This season, however, the senior has showed expanded range on his jump shot and he's forcing teams to play him no matter where he is on the court because his shooting has improved.
That was a product of his work ethic this offseason. During the summer, Nivins lived in the gym -- he refused to leave.
"Our game, as basketball players, isn't formed in the season--that's the time to show how much you've worked in the offseason," Nivins said. "I can remember working out throughout the summer time and nearly passing out. That's just my will to get better -- to be better than the next person." That wasn't an attitude that Nivins just adopted last summer. As a child, hard work was one of the values preached to him by his parents.
"Whether it was sports, or playing an instrument, [my parents] just wanted me to be the best that I can be," Nivins said. "One of the things my dad told me was `If you're serious about something and you really want to do it, you have to put in the work for it. If you want to be the best -- it doesn't happen overnight.'"
He is gifted naturally, but there's no question that his character and work ethic have turned him into the player that he is today: an NBA draft prospect.
He seems to do it all for Saint Joseph's. Averaging a double-double, he carries the Hawks night-in and night-out. At 19.7 points per game he leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring. He is also first in the conference in rebounding.
Nivins is shooting 80.5% from the free-throw line, a career-best for him. His 64% field goal percentage is second in the nation.
More impressively, all of these numbers are coming with two and three defenders on him whenever he touches the ball. Opposing teams opt to leave the Hawks' perimeter players open while draping defenders all over the two-time All-Atlantic 10 performer.
"It's something that I've become accustomed to," he said. "My teammates have done a wonderful job of finding me when I present myself."
With the monster season he is having, he is not only the favorite to win Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, but he is solidifying himself as one of the top players to ever play on Hawk Hill.
But that's not good enough for Nivins. He doesn't talk about his numbers or brag about the strong points of his game. He only talks about what his game is lacking. He goes to the coaching staff to find out what the NBA scouts are saying his weaknesses are, so that he can improve on them.
"I wanted to know what it is that I need to work on," Nivins said. "If I was fortunate enough that [a NBA team] would pick me up, [I want to know] how I can prepare myself so that I can help them win games at the next level. If it's a weakness of mine, I want to make it a strength."
For now, though, Nivins keeps the NBA talk to a minimum. Before he can think about the NBA, he has an important trip to Atlantic City that he is worried about.
"When people think about St. Joe's, I want them to think of us as a team of winners, not just `The Ahmad Nivins Show,'" he said. "Nothing will mean more to me than winning the Atlantic 10 Championship."
He has only been playing organized basketball for about eight years, but he has had the benefit of playing for some of the game's best basketball minds in legendary high school coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony and Hawks head coach Phil Martelli.
"Coach Hurley is a wonderful teacher of the game," he said. "He taught me the fundamentals of the game and then some. He's hard on his guys, but you need someone like that if you are going to be successful."
The forward is quick to credit his current coaches for helping develop him into the player that he is today.
"At the end of the day, I can say I left here a better player than I came in," he said.
When choosing a college, it was no surprise that the family man chose the school where he felt most at home. He also wanted his family, who proudly wear their #34 jerseys at every game, to be able to watch him play.
"I came down here on a few visits to packed Fieldhouse games and some Palestra games, and the atmosphere really got me," he said. "It just felt like the right fit for me."
Four years after first arriving on Hawk Hill, it is obvious that Nivins made the right choice.
He's become an elite player in the Atlantic 10. Nivins is one of only 10 Hawks ever to score 1400 points and grab 700 rebounds.
There is no doubt about it: the goofy kid from the Montgomery Gardens projects in Jersey City is a superstar on the court.
He just doesn't act like one off of it.