Class 3A blog: Sandy Creek’s Nickerson on No. 1 Patriots: ‘We are star-driven’

The top-ranked Sandy Creek boys continue region play Tuesday against Westminster at home, and two of the nation’s top players will lead the Patriots onto the floor.

“Well, we are star-driven,” said head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson, referring to 6-foot-2 Myles Rice, 3-star guard who has signed with Washington State, and Jabari Smith, a 6-10 5-star recruit headed to Auburn.

Smith is rated the No. 1 recruit in the state for his class, the No. 2 recruit at his position and No. 5 recruit nationally, according to 247Sports. Rice is the 15th-rated player for his class and No. 32 nationally.

“At the end of the day, you have to ride your horses, let them out of the stables and let them play,” Nickeson said. “So that’s what we do. We let them have a lot of freedom to make those decisions in games.”

Smith is averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, and Rice adds 18 points, five rebounds and six assists. Three players -- senior Deshon Proctor, sophomore Vic Newsome and freshman Micah Smith -- each average between seven and nine points per game.

Coach Nickerson answered several questions Tuesday about his program, this season and his new-look region:

Q. Jabari and Myles. How do they help make your job easier?

A. They sometimes make my job extremely easy, because it has been very rare where we don’t have the best two players on the court at one time. I mean, when you have the best player in the state in the backcourt and one of the best players in the state in the frontcourt at the same time, it makes you look a lot smarter than you really are. The name of the game is to have players who have talent. Of course, there is structure and coaching that goes along with that. But at the end of the day, the players win games.

Q. You dropped down from 4A this season and entered Region 3-5A. What’s the new region look like to you?

A. I’m honestly learning a lot about them all as we go. I am a bit familiar with Salem because they were in 4A for a while, and they were in a really good region with Woodward and McDonough and teams like that. So we are used to seeing them some in region tournaments when I would scout before the state tournament. So I know they are always scrappy with talent. The others ... I am just learning by film as best as I can, but I haven’t had much time to do so.

Q. The non-region schedule you went through was impressive -- beating Pace Academy, Milton, McEachern, Fayette County, Tri-Cities and Kell. What does that do for your region and postseason play?

A. There is just no experience like great experience and great competition. You just cannot simulate it in practice, no matter how hard you try. You can’t simulate it. You can try to emphasize it all you want, but in the end, true basketball minds know there is just no way to simulate tough competition. So that schedule was a good lesson for the guys we are trying to develop.

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