Saturday, June 27, 2009

Way to go Slim, good luck in Dallas!

St. Anthony product Ahmad Nivins drafted by Dallas Mavericks after proving toughness playing at St. Joseph's

by Matt Gelb/The Star-Ledger

Phil Martelli could tell. He talked to Ahmad Nivins twice during draft day and Nivins was nervous. Really nervous. Being selected in the NBA Draft was an affirmation Nivins, the former St. Anthony High School star, craved. Martelli, his college coach at St. Joseph's, tried all he could to convince Nivins otherwise, just in case.

"Look, you're a wreck," Martelli told Nivins. "But you have to breathe. You have to eat today. You gotta get out and do something to take the edge off." Turns out Martelli was being overprotective of his player one last time. Minutes before midnight on Thursday, Nivins was taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round with the 56th pick overall. "It's just a testament to how I worked," Nivins said. "It's been a blessing." He has already been to Dallas and back for a meeting with Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle and an introductory press conference with the other Dallas picks. Now he has a few days back home in Jersey City before crucial summer league play begins July 10 in Las Vegas. Because Nivins was a second-round pick, he does not have a guaranteed NBA contract.

While Martelli talked down the draft to guard Nivins, he said he knew the 6-foot-9, 242-pound forward had a chance to go. Weeks ago, after a poor showing at the Portsmouth Invitational, combined with the fact that he missed out on a chance to showcase himself in postseason play with St. Joe's (17-15), Nivins was considered a long shot to be drafted. But after his workouts with NBA clubs, the chatter heightened. "And actually, I think the more people talked about him as a possible pick, that added to the pressure for him," Martelli said.

Even with the selection, St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley was a bit disappointed because in those workouts, he said Nivins outplayed several players who were taken before him. Nonetheless, considering Nivins has played basketball since only his junior year of high school, Hurley is proud. Going to Dallas was a surprise because the Mavericks had never worked out Nivins. He had 12 workouts with NBA teams leading up to the draft, a couple of which were group workouts for a handful of teams. Those workouts separated Nivins, a late-bloomer who has a chance to be even better, Hurley said.

When Nivins asked Martelli, "How do I get my name called?" last summer, Martelli challenged him to take the next step: Prove to everyone that you can be a double-digit rebounder. "If you're anything less," Martelli said, "they are not going to think you're tough enough." Nivins, the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, did exactly that. As a senior, he averaged a double-double (19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds). Nationally, he ranked fourth in rebounds per game behind John Bryant (Santa Clara), No. 1 overall NBA pick Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) and Kenneth Faried (Morehead State). Nivins led the Atlantic-10 in field-goal percentage, but his ability to hit 15- and 17-foot shots is something that improved his senior season and greatly impressed NBA scouts, Martelli said. That was enough to justify a draft pick. It was more validation for Hurley's program ("Not that he needs it," Martelli said) and the stamp of approval Nivins fixated over.

Nivins watched the draft with his family at home. Late into the night, when he saw his name pop up on the TV screen after a commercial break, he dropped his cell phone, which now has a crack through the screen. But that can be fixed. "I've been given a good opportunity," Nivins said, "and I have to show them what I can really do."

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