LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't too long ago, only about 18 months or so, when Austin Nichols was a mostly off-the-radar prospect just hoping to catch the eye of his hometown school.
"I actually remember telling my dad how I wish I could get Memphis to look at me," Nichols said, and, wouldn't you know it, his wish came true. About six months after that father-son conversation, Memphis wasn't only looking -- the Tigers were offering. So was Tennessee. And Florida. And Duke. And North Carolina. And ...
"Everybody," Nichols said. "I'm blessed."
Thousands of prospects are participating in various tournaments this week here in the shadows of fancy gaming resorts, and hundreds of them are enjoying (or enduring) a recruiting process ranging from customary to insane. But there aren't many players anywhere with a recruitment as interesting as the recruitment of Class of 2013 standout Austin Nichols, if only because it involves so many variables and most of college basketball's heavy hitters.
"It's out of hand," Nichols' father, Mark Nichols, told me with a laugh after a game here at the Fab 48 Tournament, which is being played at Bishop Gorman High. "I'll be glad when he commits."
There's typically a decent indication at this point in the recruiting process about where a prospect might be heading, but with Nichols it's still anybody's guess. The 6-foot-9 forward said he has no list of schools and described himself as "neutral." But that hasn't stopped some from considering recent developments and connecting dots that may or may not need to be connected.
For instance …
Nichols opted not to travel with USA Basketball's 17-and-under team to Brazil earlier this summer, leading some to assume he won't be comfortable leaving home and will thus play at Memphis. But Nichols' twin sister is headed to Tennessee, which probably means he's gonna be a Vol, according to others … unless, of course, Nichols decides to go to Auburn. Because didn't you hear what Auburn is doing?
Auburn coach Tony Barbee is in the process of hiring former Missouri assistant Ryan Miller, who just so happens to be cousins with Nichols' summer coach, Ernie Kuyper. So now some folks think Missouri might be out and Auburn might be in. But Missouri still has an assistant named Dave Leitao, and Leitao's son is teammates with Nichols on this Memphis-based summer team even though Leitao's son isn't from (and has never lived in) Memphis. So perhaps Mizzou remains in play after all.
And then there's Florida.
I mean, don't forget about the Gators.
Because Nichols' summer coach's other cousin is Florida alum and NBA veteran Mike Miller, and Mike Miller is still tight with Florida coach Billy Donovan and assistant John Pelphrey, both of whom recruited him to Florida many years ago and got to know Kuyper back then, too. Plus, Nichols' summer team is called M33M. The first M stands for Mike. The second M stands for Miller. The 33 is the jersey number most commonly worn by Miller, who funds the team. So the Gators might actually be the school to beat.
Unless the school to beat is UNC.
I mean, don't forget about the Tar Heels.
Because North Carolina coach Roy Williams was courtside for M33M's game against the DC Assault late Wednesday, and it should be noted that the most heralded basketball prospect from Briarcrest Christian School before Nichols emerged was a kid named Leslie McDonald, who is now a guard for the Tar Heels, which may or may not be important. But what's undeniable is that North Carolina is tough to beat on the recruiting trail -- as is Duke, which has made Nichols a primary target. In fact, Nichols and Mike Krzyzewski have become something of texting buddies.
"I text a lot with Coach K," Nichols said. "And we talk every once in a while."
So maybe Duke is really the leader heading into August.
I honestly have no idea.
And, for what it's worth, neither does anybody else, which is why this recruitment will be fascinating to watch unfold. Nichols said he'll narrow a list of schools next month, take all five official visits allowed by the NCAA and then pick a destination. That destination might ultimately be Memphis for the reason previously stated. Or Tennessee for the reason previously stated. Or Auburn or Missouri or Florida or North Carolina or Duke or somebody else entirely for reasons previously stated or to this date not established.
"We'll see," Nichols said. "I'm just trying to take it day-by-day."