Darris Nichols finished his playing career at West Virginia with 993 points and was part of a run to the Sweet 16 in Bob Huggins’s first year as the head coach of the Mountaineers in 2008.
After his playing career ended, Nichols returned to WVU for the 2010-2011 season as a graduate assistant under Huggins. Despite spending just two years under Huggins’ tutelage, it’s clear that the future Hall of Famer has made an impact on the former Mountaineer guard turned head coach.
“This is a dude that helped me get to where I am, changed my life,” Nichols said.
Huggins and West Virginia defeated Nichols and his Radford Highlanders 67-51 on Saturday.
Nichols addressed the West Virginia locker room following the game, something that rarely, if ever, happens at the collegiate level.
“The thing I learned about playing for Huggs is if you listen to the tone instead of listening to the message, you have no chance,” Nichols said. “I think they appreciated me coming in there. I just felt that they might need to hear from someone else that went through it.”
Of course, one of the players in the WVU locker room was Taz Sherman, who scored a game-high 27 points Saturday. Sherman and Nichols have met at least once before, and it’s clear that there is mutual respect between the two.
“I just know he was a hard worker,” Sherman said of Nichols. “I know he was a hard worker and loved to win.”
Nichols had some praise for the guard, who he knew was poised for a good game.
“Seeing him last year when I was at Florida, to this year, I think he spent the summer really working on his overall game,” Nichols said of Sherman. “He’s really good with his shot fakes, pre-bounce and post-bounce.”
“I definitely know that he means a lot to this program, and Huggins means a lot to him,” Sherman added.
“He’s gotten so much better in a year,” added Nichols. “You can tell he’s a gym rat. You can tell he works, because his game has definitely improved from a year ago.”
Saturday was Nichols’ second time inside the Coliseum as a member of a visiting team. He was part of the Florida Gators coaching staff last year, though COVID-19 restrictions were in place when that visit occurred.
But with Nichols’ experience in this building, there was one part of the scouting report that only someone with direct knowledge of WVU athletics would be able to prepare his team for.
“The big thing we told them is you got to be prepared for the musket. I remember, when I was a player, we were playing some of the teams and you’d see them at the end of the game, going through handshake lines, hitting the ground,” said Nichols. “I didn’t want that to startle our guys. We let them ahead of time that the Mountaineer was going to fire.”
He added: “That’s the biggest thing you have to prepare for pregame.”
The former WVU guard said facing his former team was “different.” He wasn’t aware that WVU played a highlight video of his career on the screen over center court. The screen and scoreboard that hangs above the hardwood is certainly different than when Nichols was lacing up his shoes for Huggins.
“I heard the applause, but I didn’t know there was a video. I’ll definitely check that out,” he said.