Hawks' Nivins holds his own at U.S. tryouts

Posted: July 14, 2007

The way Ahmad Nivins figures, if he sits around and reflects on how far he has come in less than three years, some other basketball player might be gaining an edge on him.

"I don't want to stop and think about that," the 6-foot-9 St. Joseph's junior said yesterday. "I just want to keep moving forward."

As he spoke, Nivins was cooling down after two intense hours of drills and scrimmages at Haverford College, where he is among 30 of the country's top college players trying out for the U.S. team that will compete in the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro from July 25-29.

Nivins' invitation seems remarkable considering he wasn't even a starter his senior year at St. Anthony of Jersey City, a longtime national powerhouse under demanding coach Bob Hurley. When St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli informed Nivins he was invited to the tryouts, which are being conducted by Villanova's Jay Wright, the U.S. head coach, Nivins said he was surprised and somewhat in awe.

"I didn't see it coming, but I think it's a blessing," he said. "Then I realized I had work to do."

No one ever questioned Nivins' work ethic. How could they? Two years after leaving St. Anthony for St. Joe's, Atlantic Ten coaches voted him to the league's first team after he averaged 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Hawks, while shooting 63.1 percent, a single-season school record.

When you consider Nivins didn't begin to take the game seriously until his junior year of high school - up to then he was more devoted to baseball as a pitcher - it is fair to assume there is plenty of upside to his game.

"You have to love Ahmad," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who is on the U.S. collegiate committee, led by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "He's bright, alert, and very aware of what's going on."

The players, including Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds, were scrutinized during morning and evening trial sessions yesterday. Two more trials will be held today, and the team will be cut down to no more than 16 players after tonight's session.

Wright, who is coaching on the international level for the fourth time, said yesterday this group would be the most difficult to pare down.

"Coach Boeheim and I have done this together three times and we were just saying this is the toughest group because it's a very equal group," Wright said. "There aren't a lot of guys who stand out distinctly, but there are a lot of very good players."

With his athleticism and determination, Nivins, 20, so far has held his own. Among the post players he is competing against are Georgetown's 7-2 Roy Hibbert, Wisconsin's 6-11 Brian Butch and North Carolina State's 6-8 Brandon Costner. Nivins said it took him a little while to become accustomed to the pace of play, which is necessitated by the 24-second shot clock used in international competition.

"It was a little bumpy," Nivins said. "But I'm starting to get used to it. The way the coach wants to run the offense and defense is a little quicker than what I'm used to, and everything's a little different in international play, like the wider lanes."

Whether or not he makes the final cut, Nivins said he would definitely benefit from the experience.

"My goal is to make the team, but I've already benefited from the experience," he said. "This is an elite group of guys. Everybody's as quick and as strong as I am, if not quicker or stronger."

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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