Athlete of the week: Jack Nolan dishes about stepping into bigger shoes

| Senior Sports Editor

Jack Nolan just might be a bucket. Nolan has been lighting up scoreboards for the Bears since his freshman season two years ago. Now a junior, Nolan is putting up the best numbers of his career: 18.5 points per game on 48.5% shooting from the field while shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc. On Wednesday night, Nolan made six three pointers as Wash. U. routed Rhodes College, 80-55. Ahead of the game, I talked with Nolan about the transition from a freshman playing meaningful minutes to a junior leading a top-10 basketball program in scoring and the memories he’s made as Wash. U. Bear.

Grace Bruton | Student Life

Junior Jack Nolan prepares to pass the ball as he is guarded by a Coe College defender. Nolan started in the game on Nov. 22 and scored 10 points against Coe.

Student Life: You’ve played a lot throughout your Wash. U. career. What’s different now between your role as a junior, who I imagine is somewhat of a leader on the team, versus back then when you were just a freshman?

Jack Nolan: Absolutely. I think roles are really something that change significantly throughout a career. I think being a good basketball player and being a good teammate means adapting to your new role and being willing to change. So freshman year, it was definitely more of like, I came in and I didn’t really know anything. It was really being a follower. And listening to what upperclassmen had to say, and really just being a [servant] leader, and being willing to do whatever the upperclassmen needed from me. Whereas now: I’m a junior. There are guys younger than me, and I think it’s more of like, I need to be able to take freshmen under my wing that need it and just be there for them if they need help. Whether it’s on the court or outside of the classroom—simple stuff such as scheduling classes—being there for them is definitely important to my role now as an upperclassman.

SL: Your freshman year, I know there was a bunch of seniors who were on the team. What lessons did you learn from them?

JN: There’s so many. My freshman year was a really special season. There were six seniors. Five of them started, but all six were just incredible guys. I can’t speak highly enough of their character, and just how great of guys they were and how great of leaders they were to allow a freshman, like I was at the time, to come in and [to] welcome me with open arms like they did. They welcomed everyone with open arms. They took all the younger guys under their wing and really demonstrated through example what it means to be a good leader, what it means to be a good teammate. I think they exemplified a lot of what being an unselfish team with good leadership is about. Definitely, it was a really special year. I learned a ton from from that group of seniors, for sure, as well as Marcus Meyer. He was the lone senior on our team last year. I learned a ton from him as well. I think everybody learns from the people that go before them, and I definitely picked up a lot of life lessons and leadership lessons from those guys that went before me.

SL: Your freshman year you played under [retired basketball coach] Mark Edwards. Now you you’ve had a year of playing under [head coach Pat] Juckem. What’s stayed the same? What’s different? How have their philosophies differed?

JN: Yeah, so I think what’s amazing is [that] they’re both very similar types of people in that they both care so much about people that they work with on a daily basis, individually. They care so much about our individual success outside of basketball. Coach Edwards was an unbelievable leader, an unbelievable coach on the court. I think where he left his mark is in each player that he coached. Every player he coached knew that he cared about them. I think Coach Juckem is the same way. On the court, there [are] some X’s and O’s differences. But every coach has their different ways of doing things. And there’s definitely a lot of right ways of doing things and not necessarily one right way to do it. So I think they definitely differ like X’s and O’s-wise [and] are also similar in some ways.

SL: Moving a bit more into basketball, who are your favorite opponents? Is there anyone who you get excited for when you see them on the schedule?

JN: Every team, equally. As cliche as it sounds, the margin for error in Division III, if you want to make the [NCAA] tournament in March, is really, really small. Every single team that comes on our schedule…almost every game is a must-win. That’s just the way it works in DIII. That’s kind of been our philosophy for years. Obviously, you have some games towards the end of the year that might, you know, mean more than others because of circumstances and record and so on. But I think at the beginning of the year, every team is the same and you can’t sleep on any team and you gotta come ready to play every single game.

SL: Do we have rivals?

JN: Historically, the University of Chicago. But again, I’d say every single game is really important.

SL: What has been your favorite basketball memory?

JN: Oh, man. I gotta think about that one. Like an on-the-court memory? Because there’s, I mean, there’s so many. There’s so much that I could give you off the court. Cause at the end of the day that’s what I’ll remember the most: times with the guys and stuff. But I guess on the court, I’d say…there’s a couple to choose from. This last win, this past week against Augustana [College]. It was a big one for us. It was really important for our team to get that win. We had a slip-up early in the year against [the University of Wisconsin] Platteville. We definitely took a lot of lessons from that game and really tried to learn from the lessons that we had in that game. Augustana was a real test to see how much we learned from that loss against Platteville. And in many ways, I feel like we passed the test. And we really did feel like we’ve improved since the Platteville game. We really were able to show that against Augustana. So I think it was really one of those games that hopefully was sort of like a turning point for us. And hopefully we can continue to ride the momentum and continue to get better each [and] every day and take the Augustana win and learn from that as well. So we can get more wins down the road.

SL: Gotcha. You mentioned that you had some off-the-court memories that you were also thinking of. What’s your favorite one of those?

JN: Sure. I’d say being on a basketball team, it’s such a tight knit group of guys. Like this year [with] 17 guys on the roster, and you just become so close with these guys. I live in a house with five or six of them. And so we’re with each other almost all the time. So there’s so many memories that come to mind. Even last night, we’re coming up on finals week, right? So last night, I have a test coming up and a couple guys have projects to do. So we’re studying as a group in the Athletic [Complex], and somewhere around 11:30 or whatever, we decide to take a break and go out and play pig for 20 minutes on the court. It’s just little things like that, little moments [where] you become close with your teammates and with your friends. It’s those things that I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And it’s those things that I’m really thankful to the game of basketball for giving me the opportunity to meet [the] guys that I’ve met, friends and teammates who just really changed my life. And I’m really appreciative of that.

SL: In terms of your on the court performance, where do you think you’ve improved the most in your time at Wash. U.?

JN: I would hope that I’ve improved the most defensively—and [I] definitely still see a lot of room for improvement for myself on the defensive side as well, I’m not totally there yet—but I think just from freshman year coming in, I’ve gained weight, I’ve gained a lot of strength. I’ve gotten bigger since my freshman season and each year, I think I’ve just learned to think the game better on the defensive end and be able to anticipate a little more defensively. And so I think in many ways, it doesn’t show up on stat sheets as much, but I think my defense has been much improved since my freshman season. I hope it can continue to improve down the road here as well.

SL: What do you think your biggest strength is?

JN: That’s a tough one. Probably just being able to stay poised in tough circumstances throughout games. I’m the type of person that, throughout games, I really pride myself on being always in control of my emotions and being very levelheaded throughout the game. And in many ways I really tried to exemplify being a leader in that way on the court. I’m not super outwardly vocal on the court, but I definitely try to lead by example. And so in the game you know, when we’re going through adversity, when the other team is going on a run, when we give it up a couple baskets in a row, I always want my teammates to see someone who’s under control. Someone who’s not worried, not panicked. I really pride myself on never getting too high and never getting too low and always trying to stay very levelheaded and poised.

SL: Speaking of being very levelheaded at crucial points in the game, have you ever hit a buzzer-beater?

JN: I have. It’s been a while. I’ve hit some big shots, but the last time I had a buzzer-beater was probably not since eighth grade or seventh, maybe freshman year, I’m not sure.

SL: What does it feel like to hit one of those big shots?

JN: For me, it feels exciting, just for the sake of my team. I’m very competitive and I hate losing more than anything, and so to be able to hit a big shot or even make a big pass to someone else who has a big shot or make a big defensive stop, and it’s not always about a big shot, right? But to make a big play in crunch time. It’s just…it feels different. Being at the end of the game, being so close to a win or a loss. It’s just something that’s really exciting. And every time that you walk off the court with a win, it’s a really good feeling. And [it’s] something that I’m willing to work for.

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