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Boys & Girls’ Nichols finds perfect fit in Hofstra

Malik Nichols wanted three things out of college: a program close to home, a coaching staff he felt comfortable with and the opportunity to contribute immediately.

Hofstra offered all of the above, so Nichols didn’t waste any time, committing to the Pride and new coach Mo Cassara on Monday.

“It takes the pressure off me, I don’t have to worry about people calling me, asking what I’m gonna do, what are my plans,” said Boys & Girls’ versatile 6-foot-6 guard, who transferred from Hillcrest in Queens after his family moved to Brooklyn last spring. “All I need to say is Hofstra.”

Moments after committing, Nichols’ thoughts drifted to one of his basketball role models, former Hillcrest assistant Marc Ellison, who tragically took his own life Aug. 24, 2009.

Ellison, Nichols said, was the first coach to believe in him, the first coach that pushed him hard because he saw the potential in him.

“He would be proud and happy,” said Nichols, who averaged 22 points per game last year for Hillcrest. “He was the first guy who said I was gonna play Division I basketball. I owe it all to him.”

Nichols’ recruitment took off this summer on the AAU circuit. It continued to rise this fall during a series of open gyms at Boys & Girls. Nichols held an offer from St. Bonaventure and Xavier and LIU and Quinnipiac also expressed serious interest. But Hofstra, led by assistant Steve DeMeo, made the first offer and stayed in close contact. DeMeo, a former Providence College assistant, saw him in several AAU showcases in April and July and again at the open gyms.

“I give Steve DeMeo a lot of credit,” Boys & Girls assistant Elmer Anderson said. “He pinpointed him. He saw in him what we’ve seen in him, and that’s talent. Does he have Big East talent? Absolutely, but you gotta go where you feel like you’re gonna play right away, where you’re not gonna get recruited over.”

One assistant coach involved in Nichols’ recruiting lauded him as “the steal of the metro area,” because of his college-ready body, his ability to score, create for others and shoot from the perimeter. Nichols, the coach said, could be an all-conference performer as a freshman.

“Whoever recruited him deserves a pay raise,” the coach said. “He’ll be there with the Hofstra greats when it’s all said and done. That’s a major get for Hofstra.”

Nichols said he feels like it’s a major get for him. At this time last year, he didn’t have any college interest. He was hurting because of the sudden death of Ellison. Now he has a college scholarship to call his own, close to home and the chance to fit in right away.

“It’s awesome. I don’t have to ask my mom or dad pay for me to go to school,” he said. “The staff there is great.”

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