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Davis, California

Monday, June 24, 2024

Basketball in his veins

Transfer Nolan Berry ready to play at UC Davis

The UC Davis men’s basketball team is off to their hottest start in years, leading the Big West Conference with an 11-1 record, but their biggest weapon may be one stuck in a blue polo shirt for the season. 6’10 sophomore forward Nolan Berry, currently redshirting after transferring to UC Davis, is the highest ranked recruit to ever join the program.

Berry was born in St. Louis with basketball running deeply through his veins. His grandfather, Ed Macauley was a seven time NBA All-Star, winning NCAA Player of the Year in 1949. In 1956, the 6’8 center was traded by the Celtics for a young center named Bill Russell who soon after made his NBA debut and won 11 championships. Russell failed to capture championships in two years of his career, the first coming in 1958 against Macauley. Berry credits his grandfather, who resides in the Basketball Hall of Fame, as his non-sports hero and a major influence in his decision to pursue basketball.

After growing up surrounded by basketball, and having two older brothers pushing him to excel in sports, Berry attended De Smet High School where he played varsity basketball for all four years. In each of his three years as a starter, the forward scored over 18 points while blocking nearly 2.5 shots per game. Although the 6’10 big man graduated high school ranked No. 120 in the country according to Rivals.com, he had made his collegiate decision long before. During Berry’s sophomore year, his first as a member of the starting five, Butler University coach Brad Stevens called with interest and quickly wooed the young man.

“I committed at the end of my sophomore year, so I committed pretty early,” said Berry. “I went on an unofficial visit and I really liked it. I really clicked with the coaching staff, especially Coach Stevens and really just wanted to play for him.”

Berry moved to Butler ready to play for Stevens, but found out within two weeks that his coach was moving onto an organization his grandfather once called home, the Boston Celtics. Then a freshman, Berry considered transferring immediately, but decided to stick it out for a year.

Despite his high rank coming out of high school, Berry’s freshman year of college was unimpressive statistically, unable to earn much playing time on a veteran roster. Berry played in 18 games, averaging 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in just under six minutes per game. The experience ultimately was not what the forward wanted and he began to look at opportunities to transfer.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about the coaching staff [or] the team, they welcomed me and it wasn’t the year we expected, but it was still a good year to learn,” said Berry. “At the end of the day, with the coaching staff, we weren’t clicking and we weren’t on the same page about my future and the future of the program.”

As Berry began to search for programs that fit his criteria, he received a call from UC Davis head coach Jim Les who had seen him play as a freshman and liked what he witnessed. Berry was familiar with Les from his coaching days at Bradley University, but did not know much about UC Davis. One quick visit, including spending time with the entire team, changed that and Berry was sold.

According to Berry, it was a combination of the academics, coaching philosophy and the style of play that drew him to UC Davis.

“I just started to do some research on the school, looking into the basketball program and then I decided to come on a visit. I just really fell in love with the place. It’s just a good fit.”

Coach Les is beyond excited both for the impact that Berry has already made on the team and what he is going to be able to accomplish in games next season when he returns from the redshirt year mandated by NCAA transferring rules. Les raved about Berry’s work ethic and passing abilities, as well as the fact that his versatile offensive game will fit nicely with any of the three rotation big-men who are returning after this year.

Still, Berry acknowledged how difficult it can be to watch his teammates play while he sits out. “It’s tough [to have to sit on the bench]. You want to get out there and do whatever you can to help them. I’m just trying to take it slow and do whatever I can to make them better in practice, so I like to think that I am a little bit of a reason for the success that they are having.”

Despite having to deal with the negatives of taking a year off from games, both coach and player agree that this year has been instrumental in Berry’s growth as a player. “[He is] continuing to work on his game,” said Les. “His shot is improving, especially his outside shot which is big.”

“Lifting a lot, obviously, it has really helped me in getting stronger [which] I think is a big part in improving my game,” said Berry. “Getting comfortable with the guys for a year, figuring out what guy’s tendencies are and what they like to do and they are also getting comfortable with how I play. I think it’ll be fun next year.”

While Nolan Berry may have to watch as the Big West leading Aggies storm the NCAA Tournament this year, he and UC Davis fans should sleep easily knowing that he is waiting behind the wings ready to leave his own mark.

Graphic by Jennifer Wu


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