Nov. 15: A 'maturing' Javyn Nicholson's plan to turn glimpse of stellar play into consistency
Junior forward Javyn Nicholson started her season strong for the Lady Bulldogs
ATHENS, Ga. — Javyn Nicholson began and ended a stellar display of ball movement that made highlight reels in Georgia's season-opening win over Gardner-Webb on Thursday evening.
The Lady Bulldogs want "everybody to eat," as head coach Joni Taylor eloquently put it. Seven players with eight-or-more points prove the luxury of the team's depth. Nicholson passed the family-sized dish of mashed potatoes then took her own spoonful.
Nicholson executed a handoff pass to Chloe Chapman, who found Sarah Ashlee Barker on the wing. She looked for her own shot, but only for a split second, as Nicholson had a mismatch. As a third-year player with immense knowledge of Georgia's system and a 6-foot-2 frame, there's a size and experience advantage over opponents.
Barker found Nicholson, who imposed her physicality with a layup centered around plenty of contact. Gardner-Webb's Emma Capps committed the foul for an and-1 opportunity, and Nicholson felt unfazed while making a statement about her offensive game.
"I live for those moments to be physical," said a jovial, yet insightful Nicholson after Georgia's 97-45 win over its Big South foe. "That's a big part of what I know I can do consistently."
Nicholson featured some highlights, but her double-double performance (13 points and a career-best rebounds) had a plethora of detail-oriented plays that allowed the Lady Bulldogs to have seemingly-flawless execution in their lopsided win over Gardner-Webb.
In the junior's 17 minutes, she persistently had influence over Georgia's performance. She hauled in rebounds, scored in bunches, racked up a pair of steals and recorded a plus-minus of +17 — a significant stat, albeit in a blowout where the Lady Bulldogs held a lead that seemed to start at 20-plus points and continued to grow.
"I'm extremely comfortable in any situation and more experienced now as a junior," Nicholson said. "My teammates make it really easy for me."
Nicholson's return to the hardwood mirrored that of the last season-opener, where she played a key role in Georgia's close win at Mercer. She brought a different level of determination in that game, with 15 points and seven rebounds. Nicholson showed some parts of her game that could've been vital in what came to be quite the successful season for Georgia, but it came in flashes.
The minutes fluctuated, and the results did too throughout the 2020-21 season, while finishing at a respectable number of 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. The final two games in the SEC tournament, however, made something click for Nicholson.
She logged 14 and 19 minutes in the thrillers against Texas A&M and South Carolina, respectfully, and made significant contribution with seven rebounds against the Aggies and eight points against the Gamecocks. The gut-wrenching loss to South Carolina where the Lady Bulldogs were two baskets away from cutting down the nets in Greenville, though, resonated with Nicholson.
"I finally made the decision to put my head down and work," she said, recalling the emotions around that March defeat. "It really hit home for me. I had to make that decision for myself. I don't want to leave the University of Georgia with any stone unturned. I want to give it my best and reach my full potential."
Nicholson worked tirelessly through the offseason. She fits the definition of a "gym rat" in some ways, and her teammate Mikayla Coombs called it inspiring. Georgia's experienced guard will take an occasional evening trip inside the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility if she needs to pick up an item. She will walk through the doors, then hear a basketball bouncing as she begins to ascend the stairs.
More times than not, it's Nicholson working and putting in the extra hours.
"It is the epitome of putting your head down and working," Coombs said. "I'm really glad that it is showing right now."
Her work beyond what's mandated encapsulates Nicholson's quest for consistency, which continues with a Monday night bout with Furman (7 p.m., SEC Network+). She has put together a wowing performance to open consecutive seasons, but she wants this time to be different. Nicholson wants to show it repetitively or "Let my work speak for itself," as she put it, and become a key cog in the Lady Bulldogs' frontcourt — potentially as the top option behind sixth-year super senior Jenna Staiti.
"I've got aspirations of playing overseas or in the WNBA, and the work ethic is a big part of that," Nicholson said. "I'm maturing and knowing that I have to change myself in order to reach those goals."
If you know the brand of basketball that Georgia prides itself on, then the priorities for Taylor become fairly obvious. Regardless of how talented a player might be offensively, she must defend at a premier level.
That's why Georgia goes through a period of preseason workouts while only focusing on the defensive end. It allows the Lady Bulldogs to reach their optimal level of play by the season's end, because an experienced group under Taylor will be rather difficult to score on.
Nicholson's offensive numbers didn't serve as any surprise to Taylor. She knows Nicholson do that each time she steps onto the floor. In order to earn the minutes to do so, the junior had to amplify her defensive game and apply what had been learned from scouting reports.
"She did that. You could tell it was something in the front of her mind through the summer and fall," Taylor said. "She's asking the right questions, so she committed herself to doing the right things and being a good defender. That's where she needed to grow. She's already so valuable in the way she can get rebounds, score and take contact."
"It means everything," Nicholson said of defense. "You don't win championships without defense."
Georgia's offensive highlights were aplenty to open another campaign, including a couple of flashy moments from Nicholson. Her best moments against Gardner-Webb, however, came when helping the Lady Bulldogs' stifling defense put the opposition on lockdown.
Nicholson showed strides, which allowed her a place at the offensive table for Georgia's feast.
"The door opened up for her when she committed to playing both sides of the floor," Taylor said.