If you spent most of your Thursday watching college basketball — and if you’re reading this, the odds are quite good — you saw a lot of Nick Pringle.
Of course, if you’re reading this, the odds are also quite good that you’re quite familiar with Nick Pringle. Heck, you probably know him personally or at least know someone who does. You might have known of him since he was a 6-foot sophomore still finding his game at Whale Branch, or maybe when he was a 6-foot-4 junior who averaged just shy of a double-double and was an honorable mention All-Lowco pick. Oops.
You surely heard of him when he shot up to 6-foot-8, took the AAU circuit by storm after his junior season, and led the Warriors to the Class 2A state championship game as a senior, earning him a scholarship to Wofford (and our Player of the Year award … got it right this time).
Maybe you forgot about him for a minute, when he was twisting in the wind in Spartanburg before resurfacing in western Kansas, insomuch as one can “resurface” in Dodge City. It was easy to lose track of Pringle while he was grinding halfway across the country in a town most notable for its place in Wild West lore, but if you were keeping tabs, you saw something special happening.
Or maybe you just found out Thursday. Welcome aboard the bandwagon.
Pringle’s physical evolution from a scrawny kid with tons of potential to the grown-ass man that came off the bench to put up a double-double — he racked up 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and grabbed 15 rebounds in 20 minutes — and lead Alabama to a 96-75 rout of Texas A&M Corpus Christi took place away from the spotlight. First, here at home, working with coaches and trainers year-round to hone his skills and mold his body, then at Dodge City Community College, where there was nothing to do but work so hard that the journey couldn’t possibly end there among the stockyards and tumbleweeds.
Pringle did just that and immediately shot to the top of the junior-college recruiting rankings, watching offers pour in, first from “mid-majors” and small-conference also-rans, then from Power Five schools, and eventually from the elite programs in the country.
He felt at home in Tuscaloosa and in Nate Oats’ frenetic style that emphasizes athleticism and puts big men who can run the floor and put themselves in position to get the ball in the right spots in an advantageous situation.
It took Pringle some time to grasp the system and his playing time dwindled until he was on the floor for just one minute in a 100-90 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 17. He scored nine points in his first 11 games at Alabama and was held scoreless in eight of them.
Then, on Dec. 20, Pringle erupted for 14 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes in a rout of Jackson State and followed it up with 10 points and four boards at Mississippi State eight days later. A harbinger.
Still relegated mostly to a handful of minutes per game, Pringle showed another burst of production with 10 points and seven rebounds against LSU in January then had his big breakout game Feb. 18 against Georgia, going off for 19 points and 12 boards in his first double-double for the Crimson Tide.
Although the opportunities to shine have been limited on a team stacked with talent, Pringle has become something of a media darling on account of his beaming smile every time the camera pans to the Bama bench, his understated knack for comedy on social media, and of course, his rim-shaking dunks. He looked right at home taking the honor of the on-court postgame interview after Thursday’s win.
This Alabama team comes with plenty of compelling storylines, not the least of which is the mystery concerning star freshman Brandon Miller’s role in delivering an alleged murder weapon to former teammate Darius Miles and Oats and the university’s handling of the situation. You’ll hear a lot more about that story in the coming days and weeks than you will about the story of a kid from Seabrook who never gave up, ignored the odds, and bet on himself.
But Nick Pringle won’t get lost in the shuffle. He earned his moment on the national stage Thursday, and he deserves all the accolades and more. He might fade back into the tapestry when the Crimson Tide take on Maryland in the second round late Saturday night, but if he’s not on the court, he will be the biggest cheerleader on the bench. Just look for the biggest smile.
Those of us who have watched his journey since he was that scrawny kid grinding for a chance and seen him grow into the vibrant young man who continues to honor his late brother and bring pride to an entire region that has long been overlooked know the world hasn’t seen the last of Nick Pringle.
Not even close.
Photo by Nick Kelly/Tuscaloosa News via Twitter
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