Mar. 13—If someone told Colfax-Mingo senior Jake Nichols after his freshman season that his basketball career would extend to the collegiate level, he would not have believed them.
And his sophomore year wasn't much better.
But Nichols went to work, got into the gym as much as possible and refused to accept where he was at that point in his career.
The hard work paid off as Nichols recently inked a National Letter of Intent to play collegiate hoops at NCAA Division III Buena Vista University.
"He put in the time to get where he is," C-M boys' coach Phil Grant said. "He got a hold of me pretty quickly after I was named head coach. He wanted to know when he could get into the gym and he texted me most weekends.
"Sometimes I would open the gym only for him. And he was always the last one to leave."
Nichols said he chose Buena Vista over interest from Coe College. Both schools play in the American Rivers Conference along with Central, Simpson, Wartburg and Luther among others.
"It just felt like home," Nichols said. "I visited about three or four months ago. I loved the atmosphere. And I liked that it's a smaller school."
Nichols played a small role for the Tigerhawks as a freshman, averaging less than one point and 1.0 rebounds per game.
The numbers grew to 3.9 points and 7.7 rebounds as a sophomore.
It wasn't until his junior season that he started playing like someone who could play in college. He averaged 11.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists that season.
As a senior, Nichols improved his numbers to 12.1 points and 13.7 rebounds, which led all of Class 2A. He also averaged 1.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game.
His field goal percentage also improved each season, going from 29 percent as a freshman to 38 percent as a sophomore. He shot 41 percent as a junior and 45 percent this past season.
Nichols' free-throw percentage also went from 39 percent as a sophomore to 62 and 63 percent as a junior and senior, respectively.
"He's improved his shot quite a bit," Grant said. "He's got a good basketball IQ and is a really good rebounder despite being only 6-foot-2. He reads the ball well and gets into the right position."
Grant was Nichols' third head coach in four years, making it even harder to earn a chance to play in college.
"It was hard trying to get settled in," Nichols said. "It was hard to get chemistry built as a team, too."
Nichols finished with 600 career points and 671 career rebounds, which ranked third all-time in school history.
This season, Nichols set school records in single-season total rebounds (287), single-season per game average (13.7) and single-game rebounds (30).
He could not catch his older brother Jared in career rebounds but did fare better in the other three categories.
"It was a goal of mine to be as good as he was," Jake Nichols said. "Some people told me I wouldn't be able to do that."
Jake Nichols joins a Buena Vista men's basketball program which will graduate seven seniors, three of which are top-four scorers on this year's team.
The Beavers were 18-8 last year in head coach Trevor Johnson's first season and are currently 9-2 this season.