Last week at the Les Schwab Invitational, out of state powers Mater Dei (CA), Bishop Gorman (NV), Norcross (GA), and Eastside Catholic (WA) visited Oregon to test their abilities in the annual national tournament. The tournament is a holiday tradition, as it allows local Oregon teams to test their prowess, out of state teams to visit a new place, and fans out there to watch some elite level high school basketball. In addition to the regional talents, national individual talents were in the building, with several Division 1 coaches and assistants in house to check them out themselves.
Eastside Catholic pushed themselves through the competition, defeating Wilsonville, Bishop Gorman, and local favorite Jefferson to advance to the final against infamous Mater Dei High School of Santa Ana, California. There, they ultimately fell to the Monarchs, having kept it close through three quarters, collapsing to their opponent’s full assault in the fourth quarter.
However, it was Eastside Catholic’s point guard Nolan Hickman that impressed the most during the Invitational, with his calm, smooth demeanor leading the Crusaders throughout the tournament run. Oregon State made things official on Saturday of the tournament, offering Hickman, as Coach Wayne Tinkle and Stevie Thompson Sr were in attendance to watch the tournament.
Hickman played his AAU basketball with Nike EYBL Seattle Rotary, where he made his mark as the calm, sharp point guard with ferocious ball handling skills, with the ability to score to top it all off. Nolan battled against Bishop Gorman’s Zaon Collins, who is racking up offers, and won the match-up and the overall game, helping his team when they most needed it. I was able to catch-up his him postgame after the Championships and congratulated him on his efforts and interviewed him regarding his overall game and the Oregon State offer.
BTD: Before this tournament, what mindset did you come in with, as many people out there did not know what you guys were about?
Hickman: Just to get as many wins as possible, take my team as far as we can. Do what I need to win.
BTD: What are your strengths as a player and what sets you apart from all the other point guards out there?
Hickman: I’m a facilitator, I can score a little bit, with both hands. Good on pick and roll and I get everybody the ball.
BTD: What is it like growing up in a basketball crazy city like Seattle?
Hickman: It’s beautiful, all the NBA vets come down and speak to us. It’s just a great culture, very warm and healthy.
BTD: Tell me about what has lead to your current path?
Hickman: Just been working nonstop, showing what I have. Any opportunity I have right now, Les Schwab was a big one - had the ability to show what I needed to do. Also in the EYBL circuit.
BTD: With the Oregon State offer, what do you think about the Beaver’s current trend?
Hickman: They’re an excellent team, I’ve been watching them as well. It’s a good squad, they have a nice campus, they’ve been showing love.
BTD: Do you plan to go to Corvallis soon and what is your mindset on this trip?
Hickman: Definitely going to go for an official soon, I just want to see how it is over there. What it’s looking like, the school.
BTD: What are some determining factors when making your college decision?
Hickman: I want to feel at home, I want to lead my team to a national championship, take them as far as I can go.
BTD: Any messages to the fans out there?
Hickman: I’m coming.
In addition to Hickman, an intriguing Beavers prospect is Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, a gridiron/hardwood star at Jefferson High School who took the football field for the first time this past season. Nate, who already accepted a basketball offer to Washington State, interestingly enough, recently took a visit to Corvallis for football. It is a mystery whether Rawlins-Kibonge will play one particular sport or both at the collegiate level, but it is for certain that he has the skills to do both.
On the basketball court, Nate is an incredibly aggressive forward that shines on the defensive end, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. In addition, he is incredibly athletic and is still adding to his offensive arsenal. On the gridiron, he is a 6’7”, 240 pound strong side defensive end that has the explosiveness and speed to make any football player whimper in their cleats. He played football for the first time last season and has since received offers from Arizona State, Colorado, and Washington State.
BTD: So with playing football this season, what aspects and skills of football do you bring to the basketball court?
Rawlins-Kibonge: Explosion, aggression, motor. I was always pretty aggressive, I always had a high motor- but football just took those two things and made them way better than they were.
BTD: Are you looking to play both sports at the next level?
Rawlins-Kibonge: I am, but I’m not at the same time. I’m just wanting to do whatever the best opportunity for me is.
BTD: How attached are you to the Washington State basketball offer?
Rawkins-Kibonge: I’m still pretty attached to it, I love those guys. They’re down here right now about to talk to them after I’m done to you. I love those guys, they take good care of me no matter what, no matter how I play. Always texting me, they treat me like family. I’m still pretty attached to those guys.
BTD: How do you see yourself transitioning at the next level?
Rawlins-Kibonge: Right now I’m just working on transitioning my game, shooting more shots, dribbling the ball more, being more of a playmaker, more of a Draymond Green type player, you know, just being able to kind of do everything - but not too much. Being able to rebounds, being able to pass, being able to score, just working on trying to transition to that. Just really sitting down on defense and making sure I don’t fear anything.
BTD: Mindset when playing the game of basketball?
Rawlins-Kibonge: It’s probably more of a who is there for me and who wasn’t. Who was doubting, who I have to do this for. And it’s more of a I’m not trying to go out there and prove people wrong but to prove myself right.
BTD: What are you looking to prove next season?
Rawlins-Kibonge: I’m not really looking to prove anything for myself, I just want all us to prove as a team how good we are. How we can come together no matter how many State Championships we lost in the past, no matter what happened in the past - this is a new team, a new group of guys and we can get it done.
BTD: Describe your character in a few words.
Rawlins-Kibonge: Hard-working, dedicated, and loyal.
BTD: What does it mean to be a Democrat and put on that jersey night in, night out?
Rawlins-Kibonge: It means that you’re just part of an elite program, you don’t see a lot of elite public schools around the country and this is one of those schools. It means you got to bring it everyday, in practice, off the court, at school, when you get on the court - everyone’s watching, everyone’s talking about you, bad or good you got to get through that.
BTD: Message to the ‘nonsayers’ or haters out there?
Rawlins-Kibonge: Thank you, I love you, I appreciate you.