Javyn Nicholson’s starting role brings ‘spark’ to Lady Bulldogs’ offense

ATHENS — At any given time, a teammate can walk through the Georgia women’s basketball facility about 9 p.m. and hear the ball bouncing. More times than not, that player can figure out who is on the hardwood putting in extra work.

It’s the workhorse, Javyn Nicholson. She does it quietly. She has dreams of playing professionally as a third-year post for the Lady Bulldogs and has a drive to leave her mark on a career that started as a four-star prospect. She always jumps at an opportunity to improve, and she has waited patiently for it to show.

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For most of the season, Nicholson has been Georgia’s jolt off the bench. She accounted for seven of the team’s eight points when the offense went through a dry spell in a loss to powerhouse Tennessee, highlighted by an and-1 that brought the Stegeman Coliseum crowd to life. She received sporadic playing time but consistently filled the stat sheet in short order.

Time after time, No. 35 came in and gave Georgia’s post-centric offense some life.

“Javyn is inspiring in her work ethic,” guard Mikayla Coombs said.

Georgia (18-8, 7-7 SEC) has faced some struggles in SEC play. One of the brightest spots down the stretch has been Nicholson. She earned a starting role, in place of Jordan Isaacs who is known as a defensive anchor and one of the Lady Bulldogs’ valuable pieces, but struggled to be an offensive threat. Nicholson brings an electric offensive element and recently earned the first three starts of her career.

In Sunday’s loss to Auburn, Nicholson sparkled with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes while sharing time with Isaacs. Georgia gave Nicholson, who has spent time preparing for a change in the lineup, the starting role Feb. 13 against South Carolina. Nicholson learned of the change on the Friday after the loss at LSU and has yet to relinquish it.

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“I had a feeling it was a possibility,” Nicholson said of the starting spot. “I feel like I have a next level I can reach. I can tap into that. You’ve seen just a glimpse, I think.”

Nicholson, at 6-foot-2, provides size at a position that is manned by a number of multifaceted guards across the SEC. Sixth-year senior Jenna Staiti has long been the star for Georgia, but opponents have double- and triple-teamed the post star without the threat of Isaacs putting up big offensive numbers. Nicholson gives that, which allows for Staiti to be free and Georgia’s “unstoppable,” as Nicholson put it, high-low game to come to life.

The concept that allows Georgia to have a semblance of success in the half-court offense is pretty simple. Nicholson stands atop the key and can feed it into Staiti (or another center) for an easy basket.

“Javyn is a spark for us,” Isaacs said. “What she does is special and one-of-a-kind.”

“I had a feeling it was a possibility. I feel like I have a next level I can reach. I can tap into that. You've seen just a glimpse, I think."

- Georgia's Javyn Nicholson, who recently earned a starting spot

It doesn’t take much to see the added benefit Nicholson brings offensively. She opened her junior campaign with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Gardner-Webb. She has followed it with seven games with seven or more rebounds, including a career-best 13 against Alabama State.

The issue, however, has been Nicholson’s defense. The backbone of Georgia’s success, which will result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, is its defense. Coach Joni Taylor realizes a bit of defensive sacrifice when Staiti and Nicholson take the floor together. There have been instances in which opposing offenses have targeted Nicholson in the post, which has pushed the Georgia junior to become more of a defensive force.

Taylor said Georgia has a solid three-deep rotation with Nicholson, Isaacs and Malury Bates in the post. The reason that Isaacs previously had the starting spot over Nicholson in the previous 26 games, however, is that the Lady Bulldogs can depend on Isaacs to get stops.

“It’s never been anything offensively; she’s always been able to score and stretch the defense a little bit,” Taylor said. “The four spot is the ‘money spot’ in this league. Somebody has to guard it.”

Nicholson, while facing a learning curve, has embraced the challenge of improving defensively. She knows that defensive development will be what keeps her on the floor.

The difference-making capabilities on offense, though, have been undeniable. She does it with scoring from midrange, in the post and by sharing the basketball. Her prowess as a passer began with playing with prolific guards and posts at the AAU level, and has blossomed at Georgia. Four assists at Auburn might have been more of a highlight than a double-digit scoring performance.

“It allows me to be aggressive offensively,” Nicholson said. “It’s cool and a great feeling, almost as good as scoring the ball when you make a great dime and somebody lays it up.”

Nicholson’s late nights are paying off. She knows more work is needed, too, and will follow. For now, the quiet workouts are showing under the brightest lights.

Her offense could be what propels Georgia through one of the season’s toughest stretches.

“Javyn has stayed the course,” Taylor said. “She’s done a really good job of trusting the process.”