Sports — 07 November 2012
By
Capital News Service

COLLEGE PARK – Two weeks have passed since Lisa Faust gave birth to her baby girl, her first daughter after a string of three sons. But a moment that should be filled with joy has brought nothing but tears.

Her mind constantly wanders, concentrating on the negatives. Forty-one, she figures, is far too old to raise an infant. Heck, she’ll be nearly 60 by the time her baby girl graduates high school. How’s that going to look? What will people think?

“Ma, I’ll take care of you,” her middle son, Nick, says with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to have a girl.”

The tears begin to dry. A few soothing words from an eighth grader and her 14-day bout with postpartum depression is squelched.

Seven years have passed since those seemingly endless crying spells. The baby girl is now a second-grader named Heaven, a name Nick chose himself. And the middle schooler has become the newest face of the Terrapins men’s basketball program.

The reigning All-ACC freshman team member is confident he will fulfill his promise, that he’ll one day give back to a pair of parents who did everything they could to help him thrive.

Nick, after all, already has the shooting stroke and he already has the drive. Give him some years to grow and develop, he reasons, and he should follow his idols — Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — to the NBA.

“I think that’s why he’s striving so hard to reach his goals in life,” Lisa said Monday, “so he can go back and say, ‘Ma, I told you so. I can take care of you.’”

***
Anthony Faust was getting anxious. Patrolling the sideline during the AAU 10-and-unders state championship game at Morgan State University, the Baltimore Stars coach glanced at the scoreboard midway through the second half.

His team was down big against the top AAU team in the city, and his squad’s chances of a comeback dimmed with each passing second. He called a timeout, and quickly pulled aside his star playmaker.

“Nick, this is going to be tough for us,” he said staring into his son Nick’s eyes. “We’re going to have to really buckle down and do something here.”

Nick nodded his head, muttered an “I got this” and stepped back on the court.

The elementary schooler drained midrange jumpers, drove to the basket at will and drew contact. Fans in the stands hollered and bellowed as the Stars capped a come-from-behind-victory and captured the state crown.

“He put them all on his back, put the whole team on his back,” Anthony said. “He wants to win and he’s going to take it upon himself to do whatever it takes to win. He’s just like that.”

That unrelenting drive pervaded Nick’s childhood.

When Nick played pickup basketball games with his cousins — now NBA players Josh Selby and Will Barton — in an alley outside his parents’ house, it hardly mattered Selby and Barton were older and bigger. Nick challenged them until the wee hours of the morning, absorbing the bumps and bruises for little more than bragging rights.

“Watch me, Dad,” Anthony recalled Nick saying as a 9-year-old. “I’m going to the NBA because there’s nothing I can’t do.”

It seemed a fair enough assessment. After all, he possessed all the necessary tools — the refined stroke, the attacking instincts, the lengthy frame — to dominate his peers.

But then every young player’s worst fear became Nick’s reality. He stopped growing. As teammates’ games developed alongside their expanding frames, Nick’s skills plateaued. The dominant outbursts began to subside, and he started to seem suddenly human.

“Guys grew past me,” Nick said. “My game didn’t jump like others’ did.”

By the time Nick started ninth grade at the John Carroll School in Bel Air, he was 5-foot-10 and a rail-thin 135 pounds. After a growth spurt, he earned a spot on the varsity squad during his sophomore campaign as a 6-foot-2 wing, but finished with a modest 7.9 points per game.

No Division I offers arrived, and Faust began to grow concerned about his future. How could he make the NBA if he couldn’t net a high-major scholarship?

***
It took Mike Daniel a few moments to recall Nick’s name when he first heard the raw sophomore was considering transferring to his program for the following season.

Though the Baltimore City College High School coach vaguely remembered him from a summer camp or two, he hadn’t heard much — if anything — about Nick’s exploits at John Carroll.

“Nick didn’t come with a silver spoon in his mouth,” said Daniel, now the coach at Severn High School. “He was hardly ‘The One’ at John Carroll.’”

Daniel was in for a pleasant surprise. When Nick arrived on City’s campus as a junior that fall, he saw a physical specimen — a rangy 6-foot-6 swingman with the length and shooting touch to become an elite player. He also saw a dedicated kid with minimal experience playing defense.

Outside of his studies, basketball became Nick’s sole endeavor. Since his parents were living in Bel Air, he spent weeknights with his grandmother just a few minutes down the road from City’s campus. It became a sort of prep school, a place where he could focus on refining his game and gaining national offers.

It seemed to work to perfection. In nine months with the Black Knights, Nick went from relative unknown to consensus top-50 recruit. Stacks of envelopes from the country’s top programs — Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, among others — began clogging the Fausts’ mailbox. Seemingly every high-profile coach wanted to make his personal pitch to the junior who had helped shoot City to its second straight Class 2A state title.

“I felt like I was dreaming,” Lisa said. “I was like, ‘Is this real? Is this really real?’”

***

It was a sunny May afternoon when Lisa received the phone call she’ll never forget. It was Nick, and he was furious.

The senior had just gotten word that Gary Williams — the Terps’ coach of 22 seasons, the coach who had doggedly pursued Nick for over a year — was retiring effective immediately. He would never get the chance to suit up for the Terps icon, to strengthen a bond that already had an incredible amount of significance in his life.

Lisa said Nick’s anger was palpable. He was thinking of the multiple times Williams sat at the Fausts’ dining room table and told him he’d definitely coach Nick for at least two years. He was thinking of all the quality programs he spurned when he chose to sign that dotted line and commit to his local school the previous November.

“I want out!” Nick yelled. “I want to decommit.”

A few days later, Lisa’s phone rang again. It was Mark Turgeon, Williams’ replacement. The former Texas A&M coach was vulnerable, even desperate.

Turgeon told Lisa he’d grant Nick a release from his commitment. But if he wasn’t able to land Nick, the Terps’ lone remaining recruit in the 2010 class, his tenure in College Park would end before it ever began.

“We couldn’t lose Nick,” Turgeon told The Diamondback a few months later. “A&M hadn’t hired a coach yet, and if we had lost Nick, I may have gone back to A&M. You think I’m joking, it was close.”

It wouldn’t be necessary. Nick met Turgeon in person for the first time days later. Turgeon stressed Nick’s importance to the program, and told him he’d have the opportunity to play right away. Nick agreed to resign, giving the Terps their eighth — and final — scholarship player for last season.

Of course, that would only be the start of Nick’s up-and-down ride with the Terps. After arriving as a slashing wing, he was forced to assume starting point guard duties when Pe’Shon Howard suffered a broken foot in the preseason.

It wasn’t always pretty. Nick missed passes, air-balled shots and accumulated far too many turnovers for Turgeon’s liking.

Nick did his best to learn and take Turgeon’s criticisms in stride. He emerged down the stretch, averaging 13.4 points over the Terps’ final nine games.

“The hardest part is just making an adjustment and adapting to your environment,” Nick said. “Basketball-wise, it’s all about being consistent. Making the jump from high school to college, it’s all about being consistent — making sure you bring it every day.”

Nick is still working on that consistency. One day, he sounds and plays like an unquestioned leader. The next, he misses his first few shots and struggles the rest of the workout.

It’s nothing too bad, Turgeon cautions. It’s all just part of Nick’s maturation, of the education of an ACC swingman.

That’s why Anthony calls Nick every night before he heads to bed. He asks him about his day, inquires about practice and reviews Nick’s class schedule.

And, perhaps most importantly, he encourages him to stay focused on the task at hand.

He still, after all, has a promise that needs fulfilling.

“Nick wants to do a good job. He wants to be a great player. He wants to be a pro,” Daniel said. “Nick will be fine because Nick’s got that drive. He’s got that family drive.”

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About the Author

Connor Letourneau is a senior print journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is sports editor of The Diamondback, where he also covers football and men’s basketball. Letourneau has interned with Bethesda Magazine and The Baltimore Sun, and has freelanced for The Oregonian and The New York Times’ college sports blog. Follow him on Twitter @ConnorLetournea.