By Bobby Narang
For the Enterprise
Jamal Nixon began his high school basketball career expecting to be a contributor.
Just not so quickly.
The Fenwick senior forward was named a starter in his first game on the varsity in his freshman year. He hasn’t looked back since, becoming the school’s all-time winningest player — currently up to 101 wins — by passing former Duke and NBA player Corey Maggette in a victory over Bishop McNamara on Feb. 12.
Nixon, a Plainfield native, received an earlier-than-expected promotion to the starting lineup because of Fenwick’s extended playoff run in football shortened the roster and leg injury to then star player Scottie Lindsey, a current junior at Northwestern.
Nixon, a consummate team-first leader, credited Lindsey, a major reason for Northwestern earning its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday, for showing him the ropes early in his career – and indirectly for his early playing time.
“I wasn’t expecting to play that much my freshman year, but once Scottie got hurt, I had to step up,” Nixon said. “Scottie was someone I admired a lot and he taught me how to be a leader and stay humble and grounded, even when things aren’t going my way. He taught me a lot about the game, from the offensive side to the defensive side, staying ahead of my opponent. He’s definitely a guy I looked up to since my freshman year. That big brother I had at Fenwick. A great role model for me.”
The 6-foot, 5-inch Nixon, who averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 1.5 blocks for Fenwick’s Class 3A supersectional squad, left a memorable legacy at Fenwick. A four-year starter, he was named the MVP of the Catholic League this year, and a two-time All-Catholic performer.
Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said Nixon showed maturity beyond his years during his freshman season that grew more with each passing year. To handle playing for a major private school so far away from his hometown, Malnati said Nixon remained a steady presence throughout his four years.
“He was mature both physically and emotionally when he came here,” Malnati said. “He was a big strong, and pretty developed physically and mature beyond his years. He was quiet, but really confident and able to play with older kids because of that. He was quiet confident kid who never got too down or too up.”
After starting his career at guard, Nixon, who signed with Minnesota State, has moved around the court, playing a jack-of-all-trades for Fenwick, often playing multiple positions in a single game in order to take advantage of mismatches. His strength, size and athleticism allow him to overpower small guards due to his dribbling ability. He can post up inside and grab rebounds or step outside for perimeter shots.
“I think the greatest part of my game is my flexibility,” Nixon said. “I can do so many things, play on the perimeter and inside.”
Nixon had some memorable moments in a Senior Night win over Lincoln Park on Feb. 22. Not only did Nixon add Win No. 96 in his varsity career, he slammed home a memorable dunk on his second-to-last basket in Fenwick’s gym during the regular season. Nixon had been a part of three senior nights in his career, but his first official senior night was special.
“I played with so many seniors dating back to my freshman year with Scottie and those guys, and then last year, we had a great year with Mike Smith and Mike Ballard and seeing them go off to college,” Nixon said. “It was a great feeling, but sad cause it went so fast. Me and Coach Malnati came in together. I’m proud of the all the accomplishments we’ve had over the four years, but I want to finish it out strong and we have big goals and big games ahead. This playoff run is important. We have our sets sight on the prize.”
Nixon credited his older brother for showing him the way, showing him about no hand-outs, showing him to work hard for everything – and showing him how to be a winner.
Malnati said Nixon is the consummate leader and winner.
“When your captain is always the hardest working kid who sacrifices the most and looks out for the younger kids because he’s been through it, others see that,” Malnati said. “Jamal just embraces those young guys. I’m proud of him, his accomplishments as a student-athlete and everything that he’s accomplished.”
Fenwick defeated St. Viator 65-36 and will play in the Class 3A Final Four.