_Indianapolis_– It started a few weeks ago.
With the final postseason of his career approaching, Derrick Nix was looking at the end, seeing the inevitable light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a light seen by most collegiate athletes – and for that matter, most people in any profession in all walks of life.
And quite frankly, it scared him.
“He looks up and says, ‘Big Ten Tournament?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it starts next week,’” MSU head coach Tom Izzo told the media on March 5. “Honest to God, he got this look on his face like, holy … cow; I guess I can say here.
“I almost started laughing and pulled him aside after. And he goes, ‘That means it’s almost over.’ And he was so sincere the way he said it, I almost felt bad – I couldn’t laugh about it, I couldn’t cry about it. I just had to sit there and say, ‘I told you, this is what happens.’”
After falling to Duke 71-61 in the Sweet 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the journey for Nix has come to a close.
It’s a journey that has included multiple battles with weight, maturity, towel tantrums and legal troubles, compounded in an April 2012 marijuana arrest and subsequent suspension from the team. However, it’s also featured an appointment to team captain, a trip to four NCAA Tournaments, including one Final Four, a couple Big Ten championships and the leaps and bounds of growth into manhood.
The true impact of Nix always was on the basketball court and that was never clearer than in the team’s 2013 NCAA Tournament run.
After pledging to pour his best efforts in to push the team to a title, Nix put forth some of his finest performances in the postseason. In the final collegiate postseason of his career, Nix averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10.7 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games.
Yet more than basketball, Nix said he will miss Izzo and the strong relationship they’ve developed over the years.
“Me and Coach got a father-son relationship and he’ll be trying to help me tomorrow,” Nix said. “(He’ll be) trying to do small things to help me continue my journey on in life.”
Sitting in his locker with the rest of teammates, sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson understood the implications of being eliminated – especially for Nix.
Teammates for two years and constant antagonists of battles in the paint in various Big Ten venues across the Midwest, Dawson said there’s a deep sense of appreciation for Nix and what he’s meant to this program.
And with that in mind, Dawson said there’s a sense of disappointment with the team not being able to send Nix out on top.
“It’s definitely a motivator going forward because like Coach said, it comes so fast,” Dawson said. “Nix, he was sitting there and he remembered that he was a freshman or a sophomore when they went to the Final Four. It’s definitely heartbreaking and sad with it being his last year and we didn’t win a championship.”
Now, the struggle for Nix is the same as it is for many college seniors: Finding a job.
Nix is slated to graduate at the end of MSU’s spring semester and he said he plans to try to play professional basketball somewhere.
Currently, Nix’s name does not appear on many prominent NBA Draft boards, including college basketball insider Jeff Goodman’s at CBSSports.com.
However, Nix said even though the future admittedly is “scary”, he plans to utilize his resources, including Izzo, to pursue all opportunities available to him.
“I’m pretty emotional right now and my facial expressions might not show it but I’m taking it all in,” Nix said. “You never realize it’s gone until it’s gone. I don’t get a chance to come back next year so all I can think of is graduating first and as far as what’s next with basketball.
“I don’t know if I’ll get drafted; who knows what the future holds. It’s kind of scary, to be honest. Coach has helped me through this journey and he’ll continue to be there.”