'More than I've ever been through.' How Jack Nunge has changed Xavier basketball

·5 min read

There's always hope that lives in the transfer portal. It's the same hope that resides in all recruiting.

It doesn't always work out, a fact that hasn't stopped or even slowed down hope.

But sometimes it does work out.

The hope was that Jack Nunge would be a difference-maker for Xavier's men's basketball team this season.

That's exactly what the 7-foot, 245-pound Iowa transfer has been through seven games.

Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) dunks past Central Michigan Chippewas forward Aundre Polk (15) in the first half of the NCAA basketball game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Central Michigan Chippewas at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Xavier led 41-25 at halftime.
Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) dunks past Central Michigan Chippewas forward Aundre Polk (15) in the first half of the NCAA basketball game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Central Michigan Chippewas at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Xavier led 41-25 at halftime.

Nunge's presence at both ends of the floor has completely changed Xavier's team. The former Castle High School star from Newburgh, Indiana, has been reliable and steady in a way that even his head coach wasn't completely expecting.

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"He affects so many shots around the rim with blocked shots, rebounding. He's a really good defender," said Xavier coach Travis Steele. "I knew he was a really good offensive player. He's been really good on the defensive end just with his size around the rim. We're keeping him around the rim a lot more than we initially kind of planned on and it's been really good for us."

Nunge's averaging 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game. He's averaging 23.0 minutes, and it's important to remember that he only returned to full action a couple of weeks before the start of the season.

Nunge tore the meniscus in his right knee on Feb. 25 in his last game at Iowa, the same knee he tore the ACL in the season prior. He's playing this well following consecutive season-ending injuries and in doing so, has become a leader for the Musketeers.

"Jack's another guy ... I mentioned how consistent Colby (Jones) is, just his whole approach to life," said Steele. "That's Jack. Jack will be brutally honest with you. If something's wrong, he's gonna tell you. He's gonna be in the training room at 10 a.m. every day. He's gonna do his deal. He's gonna work with coach (Chase) Campbell (Xavier's strength coach) on flexibility stuff and mobility.

"He's just so diligent with his process. He's had no issues. Early on in the year, I was kind of managing those minutes, trying to, managing even practices because I want to be really smart with him, especially after he plays, if he plays a lot of minutes that night before maybe it's more of a mental day for Jack (the next day)."

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Those mental days seem fit for Nunge, who had four years of high-major experience at Iowa before he joined the Musketeers, because his basketball intelligence has been one of his most noticeable commodities.

"Jack's so intelligent he can play the one, the two, the three, the four and the five of all of our set plays," said Steele. "He doesn't get any reps doing that but he knows them all. He's just so dang smart. He understands, he learns a lot through visualization, you know, seeing it. And I think that can help him continue to watch his load management."

Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) pulls down a rebound over Ohio State Buckeyes guard Malachi Branham (22) in the second half of the NCAA basketball game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Xavier defeated the 19-ranked Buckeyes, 71-65.
Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) pulls down a rebound over Ohio State Buckeyes guard Malachi Branham (22) in the second half of the NCAA basketball game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Xavier defeated the 19-ranked Buckeyes, 71-65.

Nunge's become such an important part of Xavier's game plan every night, and it's simple to see why. Defensively, he's rarely out of position and there's yet to be a game where an opposing big man has imposed his will or taken over a game from the low post.

Offensively, the effort has been there to feed Nunge the ball on the block. When that happens, it usually results in a high-percentage shot for himself or a creative pass to a cutting teammate or someone posted at the 3-point line.

On Wednesday in Xavier's blowout win over Central Michigan, Nunge made a pass to Jones, who was cutting behind him to the basket, and Jones finished through traffic and drew the foul. The next trip down the floor, Jones lofted an entry pass over a defender, Nunge snagged it, finished at the rim and drew the foul.

It was a perfect snapshot of two plays that started the same way – Nunge with the ball in the post – and they produced different positive outcomes.

For everything Nunge's done in the first seven games, it can't be avoided that he's playing through tragedy. Mark, Jack's dad, died unexpectedly four days before the start of last season.

In the last three years, Jack's lost a parent and sustained two season-ending injuries, which is a lot for anyone to overcome.

"More than I've ever been through," Steele said. "It makes you tougher, makes you appreciate what you have. I think he appreciates this opportunity. He loves this opportunity. He loves this university. He loves his teammates.

"He's been through a lot and he has a really good perspective on life."

Jack's younger brother, Bob, is a freshman at Xavier. He lives with Jack, and now he's teammates with Jack.

Bob's a walk-on for the Musketeers.

"Bob's a good player. He's smart. Runs in the family. Indiana guys," smiled Steele, who happens to be from Danville, Indiana.

There was a moment on Wednesday night during a media timeout when Cintas Center's in-arena host interviewed two young Xavier fans on the shiny, new videoboard.

"Who's your favorite player?" she asked the older boy.

"Jack Nunge," he said, to a large round of applause that instantly flared up around the arena.

Jack was adored at Iowa. The Hawkeyes faithful pop up on social media from time to time to wish him well after Jack has a big game.

He's well on his way to the same treatment at Xavier.

"Those guys see it, all those guys in the locker room know who he is and what he's about," said Steele. "How consistent he is. He's literally the same guy every single day. Doesn't matter if he played poorly the day before, played great, he's the same guy.

"He's helped change our locker room in a good way, that's for sure."

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How Iowa transfer Jack Nunge has changed Xavier basketball

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