It hasn't exactly been the start to the season Illinois fans were hoping for. Not only are the Fighting Illini dealing with multiple injuries, they've started just 2-3 in non-conference play so far.
So with things already looking down for this season, is it too early to already be thinking about next year? Sure, why not? Illinois received some good news recently when Kipper Nichols, who was expected to be a freshmen at Tulane this season, signed with the Illini. While it hasn't been completely determined when Nichols will become eligible, it looks like he'll be able to play second semester of next season. Here's a look at the small forward.
A 3-star recruit from Ohio, Nichols already has the size of a legitimate Division 1 wing at 6'6", 215 pounds. And while he may not have jaw-dropping athleticism like some incoming wing players, he is a good penetrator who has plenty of natural ability. Combine that with solid moves and ball-handling and Nichols should be able to get to the basket when needed at the next level.
As for his shooting, Nichols didn't attempt many threes in high school, but watch his tape and you'll see him hit a good number of mid-range jumpers. That's always encouraging to see at a position where many young players rely way more on their athleticism instead of their shooting.
But what stands out the most when watching him is the way he competes. Yeah, you can say that about a lot of young players, but Nichols really does seem like a player who doesn't give up on a play. A good example of this is the first play in this video, when he misses a free throw but grabs the rebound and immediately dunks it. Those are the kind of plays you love to see a young player make.
We already talked about Nichols size, but the best part of that is the strength that comes with it. Obviously we'll have to wait and see what kind of rebounder and defender he is at the next level, but he seems to have the tools and work ethic to be dependable in those areas.
Areas for Improvement
We already pretty much touched on them. Like most young players, the biggest challenge for Nichols will be getting the skills he exhibited in high school to translate to the college level against much better competition. While he has the talent to be a good defender, the Ohio native will likely have to put in a lot of effort on that end as it will probably be his biggest role initially. He'll also have to put in some work on his shooting if he wants to be an above-average scorer at the collegiate level.
Right now, the biggest thing for Nichols is getting comfortable with his new school and team so that he can be ready to contribute when eligible. Changing schools so early in a career is always a bump in the road, but its up to Nichols to stay on a good path at Illinois so that it doesn't become anything more than that. Current Illinois star wing Malcolm Hill is a junior, so Nichols will likely have the chance to fight for a starting spot when he's a sophomore. Who knows how far ahead he'll be by then, but Nichols has the tools to be a solid contributor.