It’s something I love to do. I still love going to the gym every day. If I can continue to play, that’s what I’d like to do. God willing, I’m able to stay healthy and hopefully have a little bit of a professional career. That’d be pretty sweet if I was able to do that. —Nicholas Paulos
HOLLADAY — Working out at Olympus High on a recent August morning, Nicholas Paulos was back where he first landed on the basketball map, but with thousands of miles logged on a unique basketball road he has traveled since his prep days, a road he hopes will someday lead to a professional hoops career.
No, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Greece aren’t the most conventional pit stops for a kid from the Beehive State on the pathway to playing ball for a living, but as he nears a crossroads on that journey, Paulos wouldn’t change a thing. Along the way, he forged a unique bond with one of the game’s great coaches.
The former Olympus standout wasn’t heavily recruited as he finished his career with the Titans in 2010, so at the suggestion of coaches at Utah State, he decided to move eastward and attend New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire in an effort to hone his skills.
Though the relocation was somewhat challenging for Paulos on a personal level, the year did afford him the opportunity to be noticed by Wes Miller, an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro who had attended New Hampton himself and later was a member of the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels team that won the national championship.
Paulos decided committing to the Spartans would be a good move, and he averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds his freshman year while appearing in 29 of 32 games. Partway through that season, Miller became the interim head coach. He was given the reins to the program prior to Paulos’ sophomore season.
That’s when 10-for-12 from 3-point range happened. Coming off the bench against Chattanooga on Feb. 21, Paulos scored 30 points in 21 minutes for UNCG. As a junior last season, he was perfect one night against Davidson, making all nine of his shots from downtown.
“It was one of those games where you’re just in the zone,” he recalled about his 9-for-9 night as he finished his workout at Olympus. “You kind of start feeling it early. My team did a great job to recognize that I was kind of feeling it, setting good screens for me and finding me when I was open. It was one of those kind of games where the stars align and you get a chance to showcase all the work you’ve been putting in.”
Through three seasons with the Spartans, Paulos has averaged 7.4 points per game and has just missed the three contests from his freshman year. He started all 32 games as a junior.
His play at the Division I level of NCAA basketball got Paulos noticed by the governing body of basketball in Greece, where some of his ancestors hail from and where some second cousins reside today. From July 27-Aug. 3, Paulos worked with national team coaches there and hopes to one day be part of teams that will represent the country in international play.
“For me as a kid, I always wanted to play at the highest level I could,” Paulos said. “That’s a pretty high level. To think about playing and competing against other countries, possibly in the European Championships and the World Championships, and then maybe if we qualify, playing in the Olympics, that would be a tremendous thing to be a part of. If I could do that, play at the highest level, that’d be kind of a dream come true for me.”
In the meantime, Paulos is in the process of obtaining his Greek citizenship so he’ll have a better chance of landing with a professional team there once his collegiate career is over. Under current rules, international teams are only allowed to have two Americans on their rosters at a time.
Oh yeah, he’s got his senior season at UNCG just a few months away, too.
“I want us to get a conference championship and I want us to play in the NCAA tournament if we can,” he said. “I think that’s one thing that’s always been a goal of mine and I think it’s a goal for us as a team; to come together and do something and try to make a run at the national tournament. It would be pretty sweet if we could do that.”
Enter longtime college basketball coach Jim Harrick, who led UCLA to a national championship in 1995 and has nearly 500 career victories to his name. In addition to “piddling” in various basketball activities, the 76-year-old Harrick now travels the country as a motivational speaker, having ended his coaching career in 2007.
In 2009, he came to a speaking engagement in Utah and was introduced to Paulos and his father Bill by a mutual friend, Jack Bickmore. From there, Paulos and Harrick formed a relationship that continues today. Harrick’s wife Allyson (his first wife Sally passed away in 2009) has children who live in Utah, so the couple travels here a few times each year and the basketball guru works with Paulos on days like the one at Olympus, free of charge.
“It’s great to be able to work with someone like that who’s got tons of experience and knows what they’re talking about,” Paulos said. “He’s really become a good friend of mine as well outside of just coaching. He’s been a really good guy to know.”
As Paulos enters his senior season, Harrick feels his student and friend needs to diversify his game to reach his goals, and works with him with that end in mind.
“Nick’s a great, great 3-point shooter, but he needs a medium-range game and a drive to the basket to be a complete player,” Harrick said, critiquing the fact that Paulos attempted just 18 free throws as a junior. “That’s unacceptable. Those are the kinds of things we’re working on.”
Paulos understands, realizing the more he improves, the better the chance he has of realizing his ultimate goal of continuing to play ball when his days with the Spartans are over, wherever that may be.
“It’s something I love to do. I still love going to the gym every day. If I can continue to play, that’s what I’d like to do,” he said. “God willing, I’m able to stay healthy and hopefully have a little bit of a professional career. That’d be pretty sweet if I was able to do that.”
Ryan McDonald is a former intern at LDS Church News. He is studying communication at the University of Utah, where he works as the sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org