Nolan Jr. Impressing with Big and Small Plays
The Baltimore native has displayed a cerebral approach to the game that is uncommon for freshmen
By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications
The play won't show up on Terry Nolan Jr.'s personal highlight reel, which is already loaded with high-flying dunks, acrobatic finishes and other crowd-pleasing feats from his first month in a GW men's basketball uniform.
Yet head coach Maurice Joseph celebrated the seemingly innocuous sequence in the Nov. 18 win over Hampton just the same.
Off a scramble, Nolan ended up switched onto a Hampton reserve open on the perimeter. The GW freshman started to charge out in anticipation of a shot but stopped short and forced his man to give up the ball.
Not exactly scintillating stuff, except it was exactly what Nolan was supposed to do defending a guy who's not known as a 3-point threat.
"Any player in that situation who wasn't locked in mentally would've flown by that kid, but Terry was aware of the scouting report and remembered it and stayed in front," Joseph said. "That's a very cerebral play for a freshman to make in his third college game. That's a play that junior and senior guards make."
Nolan has earned attention early in the season thanks to his flair for the spectacular, but the guard from Baltimore earned a starting spot in GW's back court as much for his dedication to the details.
By almost any measure, Nolan is ahead of schedule in his college hoops development. He's averaging 8.8 points in 30.5 minutes per game, heading into Wednesday's matchup with Princeton at Charles E. Smith Center.
"I'm not going to say it's been easy, but my teammates are helping me come along," Nolan said. "They're making the process a lot easier than most freshmen have it. They're just telling me to keep playing my game, keep playing hard."
Joseph believed Nolan had the physical tools to help GW right away. The 6-foot-2 guard was coming off a superb prep career at Mount Carmel in the heralded Baltimore Catholic League.
Nolan backed up that notion upon his arrival to campus last summer. Early on, he was playing a game of HORSE with Jair Bolden.
"Can we dunk?" Nolan asked. Bolden would quickly regret his agreement when Nolan, without any sort of warmup, soared through the air and uncorked a vicious windmill jam.
"Obviously," Bolden said with a smile, "I got an H."
Those inside the program were hardly surprised when he started producing in-game dunks fit for SportsCenter, like when he soared over Florida State's 6-foot-9 forward Mfiondu Kabengele to slam one down in his second game as a Colonial.
Nolan had been creating that kind of magic behind the scenes for months.
"It's been pretty cool to see," teammate Patrick Steeves said. "I think for him the sky's the limit."
It's taken more than athleticism to earn the role he's got now, though. He was in the starting lineup for the season-opening win against Howard, and he's earned the right to stay there with his play on both ends.
Nolan has impressed Joseph with his approach. He arrived confident and expecting to make an impact, but he's also been open to criticism and eager to learn from his mistakes. Along with the flash, he's shown maturity beyond his years.
"Obviously, you can see talent, but you don't know a kid's ability to memorize a playbook or to understand the nuances of a play or to pick up wrinkles and be able to read and react," Joseph said. "He's done a tremendous job thus far with all of that."
Young players often particularly struggle with the transition to the college game defensively. There, Nolan has shined.
Nolan surprised Joseph with a question soon after his commitment last spring. The young guard wanted to know a program record -- not for scoring but for steals. In his mind, he's already chasing GW's all-time mark of 310 held by Shawnta Rogers, another Baltimore native.
"Defense has always been big to me," said Nolan, who has a team-high 13 steals so far. "Day 1, I wasn't worried about points. I knew the points would come. I was just focused on defense, getting stops and getting us out in transition."
Nolan credits his Baltimore roots for his fast start. He's no stranger to high stakes against great competition. He doesn't think it's a coincidence that his two best games have come against top-tier opponents.
On Nov. 14, Nolan had 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the loss at Florida State. Then, he followed up with another 18-point effort while playing all 40 minutes against then-No. 15 Xavier in Las Vegas on Nov. 23. As impressive, he volunteered to check the Musketeers' second-leading scorer J.P. Macura and then helped hold him to six points.
"Coming from where I'm from, we just thrive in those big-time games," Nolan said. "That's in our DNA. Our blood gets pumping, and we stand out. We always do."
Of course, Nolan is far from a finished product. He's added about 15 pounds since arriving on campus thanks to his work in the weight room, but he's still got plenty of room to continue to fill out.
Joseph said the freshman needs to improve his shot selection and continue to focus on his offensive skills without the ball like cutting and screening.
Nolan had another learning moment Nov. 20 against Rider when he picked up a technical for celebrating a layup through contact in what ended up as a two-point loss.
That's all part of the growth process, Joseph said, for a Colonial who's been an early bright spot and seems headed for an even brighter future.
"He's got such a great foundation," Joseph said. "I'm really excited to watch him develop with the rest of our core guys that are going to be able to grow together. He's going to be a great player here for years to come."
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