Like most of us, Nick Nichay wasn’t good enough to play basketball at the University of Maryland.
He went there to learn to be a coach.
“I would have done anything,’’ he said last week, after having been named the no-longer-interim head men’s coach at Franklin & Marshall College. “Swept the floors, let me tag along to a practice … they didn’t want my help.’’
After a year of that he gave up and transferred to Rutgers, in his native New Jersey.
The coach there, Fred Hill, let Nichay grab the lowest rung on the ladder as a student manager.
Managers are the grunt workers of college hoops, but if they keep hanging around the basketball office, showing up early and staying late, they can find footing on the ground floor of a career.
Johnny Carpenter, a former manager at Virginia, was hired by head coach Tony Bennett as an assistant coach last year, at the age of 26. Ex-Duke manager Brian DeStefano is the associate head coach, under ex-Dukie Tommy Amaker, at Harvard.
Brian Pauga started out as a manager for Tom Izzo at Michigan State and is now the Director of Player Personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I dove into everything,’’ Nichay said. “The video, the practices. Whatever they let me do, I would do it. Honestly, that was the most valuable part of me undergraduate education.’’
It led to a $9,000-a-year assistant coaching job at Division III Hartwick. After one year there Nichay went to Division II Le Moyne, in Syracuse, N.Y., for two years that included an NCAA Tournament berth.
Then came seven years as an assistant coach at F&M under Glenn Robinson, who retired, abruptly, in November, less than a week before the 2010-20 season was to begin.
Robinson’s 967 wins, all at F&M, are the most in the history of Division III. In all of men’s college basketball, only Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (1,132) and Herb Magee of Division II Jefferson (1,123) have more.
That made Nichay a head coach, with interim in the title.
And right away, a controversy. The Diplomats’ season opener with York wasn’t played because of a student sit-in on the Mayser Center court, after photos circulated on social media of men’s basketball and soccer players wearing Halloween costumes that, protesters said, portrayed Asian, Hispanic and African stereotypes.
“It’s something that hasn’t been an issue at all,’’ Nichay said. “I feel great about the culture within our team and how we represent ourselves.’’
F&M went 11-14. After Nichay tweaked the halfcourt offense in February, the Diplomats won four of their last six, with the losses coming to Swarthmore, ranked No. 1 in the country, and Johns Hopkins, then ranked 10th.
The school conducted a nationwide search and interviewed other candidates, but removed the interim tag May 14.
Nichay’s only 34. It’s already been a sizable climb, but there’s plenty of ladder left.
“I’m taking over for one of the greatest coaches of all time,’’ Nichay said. “I believe in this program, and I can’t wait to get back to work.’’