CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Josh Nickelberry is not interested in waiting his turn.
Yes, it’s his first year at the 17’s level on the adidas Gauntlet and, sure, he’s well aware that he’s an underclassmen with “plenty of time,” but he’s not OK with just showing flashes of stardom or merely making waves and, whatever you do, don’t tell him he’s “really good for a sophomore.”
“I hate when people say that,” said Nickelberry, a shooting guard with Game Elite (Ga.). “I’m trying to be the best, period.”
He certainly looked the part Saturday scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds in Game Elite’s 77-73 win over Team BBC (Md.) at the adidas Gauntlet.
“I just do whatever it takes to get my team the win,” said Nickelberry, who scored 0 points in the win. “I’m a scorer and my mentality is that no one can stop me from doing that. I don’t want to be the best sophomore; I want to be the best player.”
Nickelberry’s quest was clear from the beginning; he finished the first Gauntlet session in Dallas as the No. 4 scorer in the league averaging 21.7 points per game.
“Just because I’m a sophomore people won’t expect as much from me because if I don’t play as well they can use the excuse that I’m young,” said Nickelberry, who averaged 18.8 points per game last season at Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.). “But I don’t make excuses; I try and dominate whether it’s a big name or a player that’s half my size. If you’re not wearing the same jersey as me I’m gonna go at you, that’s just how it is.”
Still, the mercilessly dominant mindset, while impressive, was far from a birthright; contrarily, Nickelberry lacked confidence at a young age and his father, Gerald Nickelberry, was relentless in his mission to build it up.
“I was always downing myself because I only played against older players and they were better than me,” Josh said. “My dad would always say, ‘You’re on their level, you can do what they can do.’ I didn’t believe it for years, then one day it just clicked.”
Josh said the turnaround came during his eighth grade season at Northwood Temple (Fayetteville, N.C.) when he started on the varsity squad.
“Early on when he first started playing people would always say, ‘That kid’s gonna be good,’ but they never said that kid’s good right now,” said Gerald, a former two-time All-American linebacker at Northern Illinois (1991-94). “I would always tell him that he’d get to a level most kids only dream about if he continued to work hard. That first varsity year was his arrival. He belonged. He excelled. The moment was never too big. He came into his own and he’s never looked back.”
Josh finished that inaugural varsity season averaging 14 points per game; a year later he upped that to 17.
“I’ve been growing every year as a player,” Josh said. “That’s the biggest thing for me; I always want to be getting better and better. I like a challenge.”
Therein lies the reason Nickelberry made the decision to transfer to perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) next season. The Warriors finished the season ranked No. 8 in the USA Today Super 25 and won the DICK’s Nationals title in 2016.
“I feel like it’s time to take my game to the next level,” Nickelberry said. “The schedule there is really tough and they get everyone’s best shot. I want people always coming for me because I’m coming for them. When I walked in the gym at Oak Hill and saw all of the names and jerseys on the wall and knew that I wanted to be up there one day. That’s my goal.”
He’s well on his way with everyone from national champion North Carolina to Connecticut to Florida, among many others all in hot pursuit. In all, Nickelberry has 19 offers.
“I want to build relationships with those schools and even more schools if they’re interested,” Nickelberry said. “I’m not worried about that part though; I feel like if I stay focused on basketball the rest will take care of itself. I just feel like it’s my time.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY