David Nickelberry was at the University of Idaho on a recruiting visit the first weekend of April when he received a call from University at Buffalo men’s basketball coach Jim Whitesell.
Whitesell had just been named UB’s men’s basketball coach, and he had already started recruiting. There was something about Whitesell’s demeanor that Nickelberry couldn’t resist as they talked on the phone.
“The way he presented himself, he was very confident, very enthusiastic, very excited about having me coming on a visit, and he was excited to talk to me,” Nickelberry said. “That’s what intrigued me. Coach Whitesell was super-excited and he got me excited.”
Nickelberry made his official visit to UB this past weekend, and the 6-foot-7 wing and junior-college transfer committed to the Bulls on Sunday, two weeks after Whitesell's initial phone call. The Orlando, Fla., native is Whitesell’s first commit at UB.
“UB loves playing fast, and that’s one thing he’s keying on with this team,” Nickelberry said. “They love pushing the tempo and they love defending. That’s all you can ask for in a program. That’s all you can ask for, moving the ball unselfishly, playing hard and making an impact. If you can play defense, the rest will work itself out.”
Nickelberry will be a junior when he enrolls at UB, and he will have two seasons of eligibility with the Bulls. JucoRecruiting.com ranks Nickelberry as the No. 31 prospect in its most recent rankings of the top 100 junior-college players, which was posted Friday.
Nickelberry averaged 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in 33 games as a freshman at Memphis in 2017-18, but he left when Memphis fired Tubby Smith and hired Penny Hardaway as its head coach in March of 2018.
Nickelberry knew he didn’t want to sit out a year if he had transferred into another Division I program. Instead, he went the junior college route and transferred to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, about 75 miles southeast of Dallas. He averaged 15 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 33 games in 2018-19 at Trinity Valley. He also had a field-goal percentage of 53.4 percent (188 for 352) and made 49 steals.
He said that he also improved his work ethic, individual defense, aggressiveness in ballhandling and getting to the lane.
“I didn’t want to sit out and not play, because I thought that would become a distraction,” Nickelberry said. “That’s where I felt I really matured. I went to a junior college, made an impact, played and got more interest from different colleges. Junior college was a great decision for me, and I matured in my thinking and cracked down on my studies.”
The spring signing period in Division I basketball opened April 17 and runs through May 15. Following Nickelberry’s commitment, UB has four scholarships available for 2019-20.
In addition to Nickelberry, Clemson forward/center Javan White, who is pursuing a graduate transfer, and David Skogman, a center and a 3-star recruit from Waukesha (Wisc.) West High School, also visited UB this past weekend.
“I’m keeping in touch with them, and I’m recruiting them, too,” Nickelberry said of White and Skogman, a pair of 6-foot-10 forwards.
Whitesell said at the start of the spring signing period that he was considering transfers as part of his first recruiting class, including junior-college products, which were a trademark of former UB coach Nate Oats’ roster design. Graduating guards Jeremy Harris and Dontay Caruthers and forward Montell McRae transferred to UB from junior colleges.
A former AAU teammate of UB guard Ronaldo Segu in Orlando, Nickelberry liked UB’s style of play – unselfish but aggressive, and one that focuses on building its game off its defense.
“They want me to come in and make an impact right away, like Jeremy Harris did,” Nickelberry said.
UB’s success in the last five seasons also impressed Nickelberry. The Bulls have played in the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons, and they have won four of the last five MAC Tournament championship games.
“The program really came out of nowhere, and I’m happy that I got to see where they see me at in the lineup, and what the success was these past few years — it’s phenomenal," Nickelberry said. "They’ve been a top team in the country, beating WVU and Syracuse, and that’s what I want. That’s the type of competition I love to face, and I think I can make an impact and playing tough teams will help me do that.”