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Prep basketball: Grizzly growth spurt

It’s not Nick Billy who has grown, it’s his game

Posted: January 13, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 13, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Golden Valley center Nick Billy is averaging nine points and 11 rebounds per game in his senior year. Golden Valley center Nick Billy is averaging nine points and 11 rebounds per game in his senior year.
Golden Valley center Nick Billy is averaging nine points and 11 rebounds per game in his senior year.

You might not notice Nick Billy in a gymnasium.

The Golden Valley senior stands 6 feet, 2 inches, a tall frame for an average person but an average frame for a basketball person.

Once the ball goes up in the air, however, you’ll see something different.

“Even though he’s the smallest center in the league,” says teammate Wade Rodriguez, “he plays as if he were the biggest.”

There’s a tenacity to Billy that’s turned him into Golden Valley’s best defender.

It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it didn’t seem likely for most of Billy’s basketball-playing career.

A basketball player since he was five years old, Billy had early growth spurts and was taller than almost all his classmates in elementary school. He hit his current height before he got to Golden Valley.

That meant he was more valuable at the other end of the floor.

“The whole offense was run through me,” Billy says. “Everyone would say, ‘Dribble up the court and get Nick Billy the ball.’ Once I got into high school, everything changed.”

By that point, most of the kids he was playing with were as tall as him, if not taller. By that point, Golden Valley was becoming a basketball power, winning the first of back-to-back Foothill League titles.

Billy knew he’d have to wait to get to varsity. Once he did, he impressed the coaching staff with his intensity and instincts – two key ingredients of a successful defender.

“He’s a very smart player,” says Grizzlies head coach Myron Watkins. “That makes up for his size. He’s good at taking charges. Once we saw that last year, we said, ‘Hey, you’re a really good defender, and if we can get you to take more charges, you’re going to stop a lot of attackers and you can turn into a better shot-blocker.’”

With that in mind, Billy worked with the coaching staff to improve his defending. One of the things they worked on was communication.

“I never used to talk a lot, which is kind of a problem,” Billy says. “Now that I’m more of the defensive player, I’m trying to get the team to talk more. I’m trying to get myself to talk more. It’s hard for them to do it if I’m not doing it.”

Since Golden Valley largely plays a zone defense, and since Billy operates underneath the hoop, his communication is extra important. He serves as a quarterback, of sorts, for the defense.

Rodriguez says it’s made things easier for himself and the other wing defenders.

“He just brings that spark that a lot of teams need,” Rodriguez says. “Whether it’s a blocked shot or a good couple rebounds here or there, he’s the type of person who’ll get us going.”

Rebounding is another element of defending that Billy has worked on. He admits that when he was a freshman, he’d just go for the ball and ignore the opponents doing the same.

Within the team concept, that won’t cut it, so Billy learned to put a body on an opposing player and box out.

When he put it all together, he earned the team’s defensive player of the year award for his junior season.

He’s continued at that level this season, averaging 11 rebounds and three blocks to go along with nine points per game. As a team, the Grizzlies are giving up three less points per game than they did last season.

That’s not all the defending Billy does.

Since winning back-to-back league titles in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, Golden Valley boys basketball has fallen on rough times. The Grizzlies went 0-10 in the Foothill League last season and lost this year’s league opener to Valencia on Tuesday.

Off the court, Billy hears the negativity directed toward this current group of players.

“I’m sure we all do,” Billy says. “We know what we’re doing to try to get better. No one else is there at our practices.”
No one else has a stronger voice than Billy when it comes to defending the program and the fight to restore it to Foothill League supremacy.

“He always defends our program,” Watkins says. “He’s always saying, ‘We’re not those guys. We’re our own guys. We’re the pioneers. Let’s put our mark on the program before we leave.’”

Billy is doing that with his defensive efforts.

That’s not to say he dismisses the offensive end of the floor. Billy says he’s worked on his jumper and is confident he can knock down any shot within 15 feet. Rodriguez praises his ability to finish around the basket.

But Billy makes his mark defending the basket, not attacking it.

“If we win 1-0,” Billy says, “we still win the game.”


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