Anthony Nieves was happy for his friends, but he also couldn’t help but be jealous. He wanted to be with them, playing Division I basketball, just like Darryl (Truck) Bryant, Lance Stephenson and Amaurys Fermin, the players he grew up playing with and against.
“I felt I should be on that stage,” he said.
It took longer than he expected, him getting his GED and attending three junior colleges in as many years, but Nieves is finally there. The 21-year-old Bronx native verbally committed to Southern Mississippi of Conference USA on Thursday.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Nieves, currently at East Central Community College (Miss.). “My family is proud me, a lot of my coaches who helped me get to where I am, are proud of me.”
“He didn’t know how to be a student,” Atkins said. “He wasn’t organized. Basketball wasn’t a priority for him. He didn’t understand academics were important to play college basketball.”
Nieves was a standout basketball player during his high-school years on the AAU circuit, playing with the Brooklyn Ballers and Raising Champions. In the city’s many streetball leagues, he was given the nickname “Barbosa,” because of his likeness to Phoenix Suns standout Leandro Barbosa. Yet, when all his friends started getting college scholarships, he had no offers because his grades weren’t there.
“I just realized I wasn’t doing anything with my life,” he recalled.
That changed when he met Atkins and started playing with his Boys Club of New York team, which faced the nation’s top prep schools but also focused on academics, as he went about getting his GED. Atkins introduced him to Tippy McTernan, a local scout who got him into Southwestern Community College (Calif.), where he averaged 15 points per game. He took classes at Western Texas College (Texas) last year but didn’t play before landing at East Central Community College this fall.
His stock began to rise this summer after excelling in Jerry Mullen’s Roundball Review, a national junior college showcase. He picked Southern Mississippi over UTEP, Cincinnati, Hofstra, Houston and Wright State. He developed a bond with the coaching staff, primarily assistant Greg Heiar, his lead recruiter, and head coach Larry Eustachy.
The former Iowa State coach, who led the Cyclones to the Elite Eight in 2000 and was named the Associated Press National Coach of the Year that season, has experience with New York City point guards, having coached Jamal Tinsley.
“He’s a high-level player,” one Division I assistant coach involved in his recruiting said. “He’s a big guard, he can really handle the ball, can get in the lane and score. It’s a good get for them.”
Said East Central assistant T.J. Johnson: “They weren’t even gonna recruit a guard, but they felt like they couldn’t pass this kid up. He’s one of the kids people are gonna be like, where did he come from?”
Nieves still has another year of junior college to go, but he is on pace to qualify academically. Now, he will be on the stage he felt he belonged at all along. It was always the goal. But now there are new ones.
“I want to be one of the best guards in Conference USA, take my team to the NCAA Tournament and hopefully go pro,” he said.