For some families, sports are a way of life. For Shane Nichols and his brother Darris, they’ve turned an infatuation with basketball into professional careers with top-tier programs. They grew up in Radford, where their father helped coach the Radford High School basketball team including a time when both brothers suited up in the black and gold.
Currently Shane is an assistant basketball coach for the Murray State men’s team, while Darris is a men’s assistant basketball coach at the University of Florida. The two have been in the field of coaching for a while now, but their love for basketball and coaching runs deeper into the family.
It all started with the Nichols brothers’ father, William Nichols, who was an All-American at Berea College, a Division III school in Lexington, Kentucky. After he graduated, he was still playing when they were kids, and became their assistant coach in high school as well.
In a day and age where parents have a tendency to place excessive pressure on kids in sports, William simply shared his love of the game with his sons, and they looked up to him for it.
“He balanced being our father and our coach well,” Darris said. “He was the kind of guy that never pushed basketball on us. He was a role model for us, so whatever he was doing we wanted to do.”
Shane and Darris are two years apart in age, Shane is the oldest. The two were close and played together through elementary school growing up in west Radford. They also played together for two years in high school, and the two’s competitiveness really drove each other as players.
“We used to get in fights all the time out in the front yard,” Shane said. “We could never finish a game,” Darris said. “Once we got older we kind of worked together and helped each other become better.”
The brothers would both go on to have successful college careers. Shane would play at Wofford College from 2005-2008, scoring over 1,000 points, and Darris became a Top 10 leader in games played at West Virginia University. During their careers at their respective schools, the two got to play one game against each other. West Virginia would come out on top, defeating Wofford 61-41.
“It was surreal, just playing together for all these years, and then coming out of the locker room and seeing your brother come out on the other side,” Shane said. “We immediately started laughing and greeted each other at half court. We had our family come and it was just a good experience.”
After graduating, both Shane and Darris took their talents overseas – Shane to Israel and Darris to Hungary. The two would ultimately return and follow in their father’s footsteps, becoming coaches shortly after their stint overseas.
“I always knew I wanted to, I just didn’t know when,” Shane said. “Once I got done playing overseas, I knew it was time.”
“I always wanted to stay in basketball,” Darris said. “I also always wanted to find a way to help kids, so that’s how I kind of got into it.”
Shane would return to Wofford in 2010 to coach alongside Mike Young, who’s entering his 17th season as the head coach at Wofford. Young was also Shane’s head coach in his playing days as a Terrier.
“The experience there was great,” Shane said. “Being on the other side of things, he was really laid back, and let me grow as a coach. It really helped me learn a lot. I saw how to recruit, how you interact with players and how you teach the game.”
Darris would also return to his alma mater to coach as a graduate assistant for a season after his short professional career in Hungary.
In Darris’s time at West Virginia, he played under Jon Beilin for three seasons, who was the head coach when he joined the team. He also played under Bob Huggins, the current head coach, when Beilin left for Michigan.
The two prolific coaches combined have a 1314-634 record, and Nichols learned important strategies about the game that he still applies to this day.
“It was cool,” Darris said of his time at West Virginia. “Playing under Beilin you learned a lot of stuff, and then with Hugs (Huggins) coming in you learned a different way to do it. Seeing different ways you can be successful, it helped me as a coach, just understanding at a young age there’s not just one way for a program to be successful.”
Darris would then go on to Northern Kentucky University as an assistant basketball coach from 2011-2013, helping alongside the team as it transitioned from Division II to Division I.
Darris would then coach at a familiar destination for the 2013-2014 season, his brother’s alma mater in Wofford. Darris would then make a one-year stop at Louisiana Tech University in 2014-2015, before accepting a position as an assistant basketball coach at Florida under Mike White, who brought Nichols with him from Louisiana Tech.
Both Shane and Darris have gotten to coach high-profile athletes in their coaching careers, with Darris coaching NBA players like forward Dorian Finney-Smith, forward Devin Robinson, and All-Americans like Chris Chiozza.
Shane has gotten to work with his share of talent as well, including NBA guard Jonathan Stark, and now coaches sophomore point guard Ja Morant, who is projected as a No. 19 pick in the latest 2019 NBA mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
For the two young coaches, being able to help players prepare for the lifestyle and the game itself at the next level is what they love to do as coaches.
“Just seeing them have success makes me happy,” Shane said. “Building relationships with the guys and just trying to help them realize what they have got to get done is what really stands out to me.”
Both of the two assistant coaches dream of commanding their own team one day and would jump at the opportunity if given the chance.
“The dream is to get your own program,” Shane said.
“We have the same dream,” Darris said. “We want to be head coaches someday, so we share ideas and we try to make each other better.”
While the two are 719 miles apart and haven’t been physically close to each other throughout their careers, Shane and Darris still share an unbreakable bond and devotion to help each other in their personal lives and as coaches.
“Like back then, we are now,” Shane said about his relationship with his brother.
“It’s cool because we talk to each other a lot,” Darris said. “Sometimes it’s on a personal level and sometimes it’s on a business level. Like ‘What are you hearing about this kid?’ or just running some X’s and O’s by each other.”
Needless to say, the coaching tree in the Nichols family has only continued to grow, and the two’s bond, competitiveness and drive to make one another better is something that will go on long far after their coaching careers are finished.
–Gage Johnson, sports editor the Murray State News newspaper. This story was reprinted with his permission.