When the Norse take the floor this evening, they will be guided by assistant coaches Darris Nichols and Kevin Schappell – both of whom are familiar names in the WVU basketball program. Nichols was a four-year letterman at point guard for WVU, and served last year as a graduate assistant, while Schappell, a former NKU star, spent four seasons as a graduate assistant under head coach Bob Huggins. Playing with a freshman-laden roster, Huggins joked that Nichols and Chappell "probably know our stuff better than we do". While that might be a factor in a regular season game, Nichols said that an exhibition game is a little different in terms of focus, so he's not sure how much impact it will have on the contest.
"We're still really concentrating on what we do," Nichols said of what NKU hopes to achieve in the game. "We have to focus on what we need to get better at. I think playing these games help expose those things we need to get better at, and what we need to work on for our season.
"We know Huggs is going to run motion, and we have worked against that, but we are still more concerned with working on what we need to do and what we need to get better at."
The Norse are in the midst of what Nichols terms "a tough week". NKU played Marshall off its feet on Tuesday night, leading 32-27 at the half before dropping a ten-point decision. The Norse have WVU tonight, then head to Cincinnati next Tuesday to round out their exhibition schedule.
"We played really well in the first half against Marshall," Nichols said. "In the second half, we didn't rebound the ball at all, and we got out of rhythm. We didn't do the things we did well in the first half, and that's why we lost."
Nichols is looking forward to coming back to the Coliseum for a game, but admits it will be odd in doing so from the visitors' perspective.
"I've never even been in the visitor's locker room before, so that will be different," he said with a laugh. "I haven't really thought about it a lot, though. It will be strange sitting on the visitor's bench."
Nichols has jumped in to his new job at the Division II school with great enthusiasm, but quickly noted that things are a bit different at that level than they are at the heights of Division I.
"I'd say the biggest thing is that as an assistant coach you are doing a lot more," he observed. "I knew it would be like that, but in Division I you have a lot more staff people to take care of things. Here, you are an assistant coach, but you are also the travel guy, the basketball operations guy, the video guy. That's o.k., though. I wanted to do that, to get that experience. It is a great opportunity for me."
Northern Kentucky has never won an exhibition game against a Division I school, going 0-18 since 2001. However, that is not damping Nichols' desire in this contest. Despite his deep WVU roots, he has no mixed emotions about the game. In a conversation earlier this year, after the exhibition was announced, Nichols said he was excited about it, but noted "We're coming there to win." Given his competitive desire to succeed, WVU fans shouldn't expect anything else.
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Like NKU, West Virginia is also focusing on its own play as it prepares for the season opener, which is just seven days away. The Mountaineers are, according to Huggins, a long way from identifying rotations, and are still considering different combinations of players. Many of those will likely get a look tonight, as WVU tries to integrate a raft of newcomers into a small holdover group that includes Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Noreen. Expect to see many different offensive and defense looks, as the Mountaineer staff tries to identify a few sets and defenses that it can bank on in the early part of the season.