Daishen Nix is the No. 1 point guard in America, but after shunning the shoe companies his recruitment is a mystery
After growing up in Alaska, Nix has evolved into a five-star player -- yet no one knows which colleges he's prioritizing
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The most impressive passer in high school basketball has a recruitment that's keeping some of the best programs and top coaches in the dark.
Much of what makes Daishen Nix so appealing is also what's led him to thrive against convention. His path: abnormal. His story: unusual.
Nix is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound point guard with power and flair. He was born in Alaska and lived there until he graduated eighth grade. The list of D-I hoopers to come from The Last Frontier is short, maybe not even as many as 10 in the past four decades. But the best to scoot down from the biggest state in the United States became college stars: Mario Chalmers at Kansas, Trajan Langdon and Carlos Boozer at Duke.
"The part in Alaska where I'm from, Trajan Langdon and Mario Chalmers came from there, so I'm trying to become the next [big] prospect and trying to be like them -- or better than them, actually," Nix told CBS Sports. "I was the best player there and ready to get out and get better."
Since 2016, Nix has lived in Las Vegas and attended/played for Trinity International High School. He played in grassroots competition with an independent outfit, Simply Fundamental (owned and operated by his high school coach and legal guardian, Greg Lockridge), which did not have apparel-company sponsorship. You wouldn't have seen him at any of Nike, Adidas or Under Armour's big tournaments in the spring and summer. To see Nix dazzle was to go to lower-level events in dingier gyms or lesser-hyped environments. In spite of this, Nix's profile has increased as he's steadily risen in the rankings while consistently wowing coaches, analysts and scouts with his pro-level vision and knack for distributing jaw-dropping passes.
"IQ is IQ," Lockridge said. "He was born with it. ... His heart is tremendously big. It's a gift from God to be able to coach a kid like this, nurture a kid like this."
Nix had a few more are-you-kidding-me dimes here at USA Basketball's Junior National Team Minicamp, which featured approximately 70 of the best 15- 16- and 17-year-olds from across the nation.
"I just love passing," Nix said, adding that he models his game after Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo, two players who rarely get referenced when top-level recruits talk about their NBA idols. "I love making my teammates better, getting them open shots, bringing up the energy for the team."
The most recent 247 Sports Composite has Nix rated 15th in the Class of 2020. When rankings refresh in the coming weeks, he could bump closer to the top 10. He's added two inches and 20 pounds in the past year and may well not be done growing. He'll turn 18 in February.
"Lonzo Ball, Jason Kidd, he's that level of a passer with his vision," one high-major coach told CBS Sports.
And essentially nobody has any real clue what campus he'll be on a year from now.
Whereas rising seniors generally tweet out their list of finalists or repeatedly reveal which schools are giving them the most attention, Nix's recruitment has been a lot harder to navigate. His line of suitors is long and widespread: from as far west as UCLA to as far north as Michigan to as far south as Alabama and as far east as West Virginia. Washington, Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Florida State and Memphis are among the throng of others who've been involved.
"We've not made a list, we've not said who we are interested in and who we're not," Lockridge told CBS Sports. "Leonard Hamilton called me, 'Hey, are you still open?' YES."
Nix's recruitment is being heavily guided by Lockridge, who is no newbie. The 62-year-old was an assistant under Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State in the 1990s. He's coached in pro leagues overseas and spent more than 20 years of his life coaching at the high school and prep level.
"I trust him," Nix said.
Nix told me his mother has no preference on where he goes to college, so his pick of program will be made by himself, with a lot of input from Lockridge, which has led to some coaches to abandon their recruitment of Nix.
"If you tell me that he's your priority, then we're good," Lockridge said. "If you tell me we're going to recruit other guys coming over, then I have to take a look at that. And guys go, 'Well, well if you don't want him to be around great players.' No, that's not what we're saying. He wants to be around great players and I want him to have competition. But there's such a thing as things get clogged up. We don't want to be in a place where things get clogged up. There's some programs where things are chaotic behind the scenes. We don't want that."
Whereas Nix told me he hadn't decided on which schools he would make official visits to in the coming weeks, Lockridge said Kentucky and Kansas will be two of the five. (He officially visited Maryland in 2018.)
Nix is not a superior athlete, but he's preternaturally disposed to athletic dominance through his dexterity and vision. He was an exceptional youth football player before giving up the gridiron to focus on basketball; the Alaskan cold and continual rain pushed him away from the field and into the gym. While in Alaska, he'd survive the extremes: 24 hours of daylight or darkness depending on the time of year. He moved away from Anchorage because he and his mother wanted him to have a chance at more exposure and greater college basketball opportunities. His grandparents' health was also taking a toll due to the Alaskan climate, so they all moved south.
Within a year of moving to Las Vegas, Nix lost his grandfather, whom he was especially close with. (His father lives in Texas and the two stay in touch.) When Nix's grandfather passed, his mother asked Lockridge to be his official guardian. Nix lives in Lockridge's house with seven other players who play for Trinity International and who Lockridge told me he is the guardian for as well. Lockridge and his academy pays for tuition, housing and travel for the boys. He teaches multiple courses at Trinity International High School and is also the athletic director.
Lockridge is an unreserved man who will speak his mind. Because of this, it's helped -- and complicated -- Nix's rise over the past three years. Nike pursued Nix, asking him to play on its esteemed EYBL circuit. Lockridge would only accept that if Nike took on and sponsored Simply Fundamental. It wouldn't. So Nix and his grassroots team remained independent.
"I'm not comfortable with some of the settings in AAU," Lockridge said. "He's developed a great deal with me, and in discussions between mom and him and I, he wanted to stay at SFBA. We made that decision we would be independent but told the shoe companies if you want him on the circuit, you have to put his team on the circuit. Of course, they're not willing to do that."
Nike seldom is,. To become a top-25 prospect despite not playing on a shoe-company circuit is an oddity. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour want the best players under their big-tops to build relationships and eventually/hopefully cash in, should the players become marketable at 19, 20 or even 25 years old. Lockridge doesn't think that system is altruistic.
"When he was 14, I said I had the best point guard in the country in 2020," Lockridge said. "No one believed me. And that was my beef. I said it to you when he was 14. And then you come back to me when he's 17 and say, 'Hey, we gotta have him.' No, no. That's not how it works. When he was 14, if he grows up under your umbrella and we can keep an eye on the whole situation, we're good with it. Mom was very stringent about that. We brought him along for three years and he's comfortable in this setting and now you want to remove him from this setting. I love AAU because that's where the kids get seen and get exposure and get to play against all the best competition. But it's different."
Lockridge said Nix staying with one team in one place and remaining at the same high school has given him a ramp to maturity. He's a devoted teammate and become a strong student over the past year. He was careful not to broad-brush "AAU culture" but did point out that the increasing transfer behavior within grassroots basketball is one of his biggest issues and primary reasons why he fought off the shoe companies in their pursuit of Nix.
"Kids change teams like the drop of a hat," he said. "I don't want my kid to learn that. I don't want you to change teams or jobs at the drop of a hat. I want you to understand that you're as good as your word and only as good as your word. And when you give your word, there's going to be obstacles and bumps in the road that you're going to run into, and you've got to navigate those. The answer isn't to get up and run and move to the next place or go to the next place for the latest hype."
Two college coaches in Colorado Springs told me that because of this, things can get political and it's possibly why Nix was positioned at USA Basketball (which is effectively an arm to Nike) to play small forward as opposed to his desired position of point guard. Nix told me he was admittedly outside of his comfort zone and was working on getting better at adjusting.
"It's a little bit uncomfortable, 'cause where I'm from I usually get the ball and make plays for my teammates," he said. "But coming here, I'm more off the ball and try to make plays still, but not getting the ball as I usually do."
What comes next, ideally, is clarity. Lockridge used the word multiple times in our conversation. But he also said the schools Nix goes to for official visits shouldn't be considered favorites, adding that Nix's college pick wasn't coming down to waiting on the blue bloods (though Kentucky has seemingly been tracking with some intent). When I explained to Lockridge that a few coaches noted to me their uncertainty on their recruitment with Nix, he didn't discourage any program from continuing its pursuit. This recruitment could well pick up speed in short order.
"When Kentucky gets involved, a lot of people run off and get scared," Lockridge said. "His gift is global, but is it suited for everybody? ... It's not about winning me, it's about showing me that you offer the best environment so the kid can be successful and not just you being successful. Because you and I both know his game is beyond college basketball. So if that's the case I need to know that It's three-fold: you're going to win as a coach, your institution and community's going to win, and the kid and his family is going to win. So if you can convince me of those three things, it's hands down. We would have [committed] a long time ago."
For some coaches, piloting through this kind of recruitment isn't worth it. Whichever program wins Nix (and Lockridge) over is getting a genre of point guard talent that is obvious but uncommon. By the time he gets to college, Nix will have a shot at being one of the most valuable freshmen in the sport.
Until then, it is literally anyone's guess -- even Nix's -- where he ends up and when he commits. The kid with the best eyes in the Class of 2020 can't yet see for himself what his future holds.
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