Hard work, keen shooting eye keys to success for hoop Axemen DePalma
by John DeCoste '77
WOLFVILLE, N.S. - The basketball Axemen have a lot of potential offensive weapons at their disposal, but one of the most consistent, particularly over the past calendar year, has been shooting guard Nick DePalma.
The six-foot Bedford native, now in his third season with the Axemen, has become the same kind of three-point shooting machine he was when he played at Charles P. Allen High School.
Entering Acadia's Jan. 10 game at Dalhousie, DePalma was 24 for 57 in three-point attempts in eight regular season games. His 42.1 three-point shooting percentage was tops in the conference among dedicated three-point shooters with more than 40 attempts.
In a Nov. 18 game against UPEI, DePalma made 10 threes and finished with 32-points in a 107-93 Axemen win. He also had 32 points (four threes) against St. F.X. at the pre-season Stu Aberdeen Challenge, and made seven threes in a pre-season win over Holland College.
DePalma was also leading the conference in free-throw percentage at 86.4 per cent (19-22). Overall, he was averaging 16.6 points per game, second on the Axemen and ninth-best in the conference.
He is building on the breakout season he enjoyed in 2015-2016, when he was second in the AUBC in three-point shooting (59-158 for 37.3 per cent), made 92 per cent of his free-throw attempts and averaged 12.3 points per game overall for the 12-8 Axemen.
Asked how long he has played basketball, DePalma replied, "most of my life." He definitely benefited from his older brother Dan (now an Axemen and Axewomen assistant coach) preceding him as a player and his father Frank being a coach.
"My dad coached Dan when he played, and he coached me when I was young. Then Dan coached me from Grade 9-12. It's always been neat to have an older brother who played the game," to learn from and serve as a role model. "Now he's coaching here, and this year he's helping coach the Axewomen as well. He's really excited to be able to help out with both teams."
DePalma played soccer for a couple of years when he was younger, "but otherwise, it's been pretty much all basketball" - not that unusual for a member of a basketball family like his.
"Ever since I was little, I always wanted to play basketball," he said. "It was kind of an obsession that has stayed with me, and that I still have."
As for how he ended up at Acadia, DePalma recalled he was playing on a provincial team, "either U-15 or U-16," when he met Steve Baur, at the time the Acadia head coach.
"We started talking. He was the first university coach who ever talked to me. He said he wanted me at Acadia when the time came, and felt I could be an important piece of the (Axemen) team."
For his part, DePalma "liked the fact Acadia was close to home," but not right on the doorstep either.
From then on, "for most of the time, I was pretty much set on coming here. I felt it would be a good fit for me, and it has been. I didn't feel any pressure to (choose Acadia). I came here because I wanted to."
DePalma "has always been known as a shooter, since I was little," and particularly from the perimeter. "I've always loved shooting the three." As for honing his craft, "it takes a lot of reps. I shoot a lot."
In terms of perimeter shooting, he said, "you need to be confident in shooting from that range, then you need to get into a rhythm, to where it becomes natural for you. It's good to practice a lot of different shots. Once it feels natural to you, you don't even think about it, you just do it."
DePalma acknowledged the Axemen have a well-rounded team this season. Kyle Arseneault, a fine all-round player, and A.J. Simmons are fifth-year veterans, and Erik Nissen, "a real good big man," was leading the conference in both scoring and rebounding.
Ben Miller, like DePalma a third-year man, "is big (6'2") for a point guard." Valley native Mitch Tempro has improved greatly in his second season. Overall, Acadia "has a lot of versatile guys who can play a lot of positions."
The Axemen "are happy with the first half, but aren't satisfied yet. Being 4-3 and tied for second (at the break) is good, but we can be better. A couple of our losses in the first half we should have won."
He believes "our versatility and playing well together" are keys to success for Acadia. "We have so many offensive weapons, other teams have a lot of players to worry about."
DePalma cited Memorial, first at the break at 7-3, two-time defending AUS champion Dalhousie and always-tough Saint Mary's as "three teams to worry about" the remainder of the regular season.
Acadia lost twice to SMU in the first half, and "will need to win our next two games with them."
The Axemen, he said, "have a lot of potential. We're able to play everyone tough, and the AUS is such a toss-up. Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen."
DePalma is enjoying being at Acadia and being part of the Axemen. "My first year, I didn't play that much, but I started a lot of the time last year. I had been working toward it, and was able to embrace it."
Classes and basketball, he said, "take up a lot of time. When I can find time, I try to relax and de-stress, and do things that help me relax." He has enjoyed the volunteer work he has done in local schools. In his remaining two-and-a-half years at Acadia, "I'd like to do more of that."
DePalma is studying business, and will graduate with a BBA degree. He plans to do a four-year degree in five years, allowing him to complete his five years of basketball eligibility.
"That was my plan all along, and by year two, I had pretty much made up my mind. I haven't declared a major yet, but right now, I'm leaning toward accounting," with the goal of securing a job in that field.
While not looking past this season, DePalma acknowledged he and the rest of the Axemen are excited about the 2017-2018 season. "We're hosting the nationals, and we're really looking forward to that.
"Not taking anything away from this year – our goal is to win – but next year we'll get an automatic berth at nationals, and once you get there, anything can happen."
Acadia will bid farewell to Arseneault and Simmonds at the end of this season, "but everybody else is eligible to be back, and it will be Erik (Nissen)'s last year. In addition, 6'9" forward Nick Ernest, who is studying overseas this academic year, "is saying he would like to try to be back."
Asked for a highlight of his Axemen career so far, DePalma replied, "scoring the 10 threes (against UPEI), and setting an Acadia record, was a big highlight.
"I wanted to try to do something out of the ordinary, help make my mark. I received a lot of positive comments on that one. It was one of those nights when you have a touch. My teammates were doing a good job of finding me, and I was doing a good job of getting open."
DePalma is "not 100 per cent sure" about his future. "If I had the opportunity to keep playing somewhere, I'd like to pursue that. If not, I'd like to use my degree to get a job in my field, but I'd like to keep playing basketball for as long as I can."