In Pursuit of Excellence: Erik Nissen

In Pursuit of Excellence: Erik Nissen

WOLVILLE, N.S. - Erik Nissen is looking forward to his third and final season at Acadia starting this fall, but before that, he is planning to have a pretty fulfilling summer and get to experience a lifelong dream.

Like many of his basketball Axemen teammates, Nissen is spending the summer in Wolfville. "That was the plan all along," he says. "A lot of our returning players are still here next year, and a lot of us are staying here for the summer and training as much as we can together."

Not the whole summer, though. The 6'10" Quispamsis, NB native will end up spending part of August wearing a Team Canada uniform and attending the 2017 Summer Universiade in Chinese Taipei.

He explained that the Canadian team for the World University Games was selected by a committee representing all of U-Sports. "I've not done anything like this before," he said. "I've always dreamed of having Canada across my chest, and it's worked out well for me."

And with Kevin Bercy from St. F.X. and Javon Masters from UNB also on Team Canada, Nissen will have some familiar company, even if he isn't necessarily that used to having them on the same roster.

"It's nice to see some of the AUS talent get recognized," he said.

The United States will be represented at the Games by a team from Purdue University in Illinois. "We'll spend a week at Purdue, training and playing some inter-squad games, before heading for Taipei" for the Games, which run from August 19-30.

After their arrival in Taipei, Nissen and his teammates will spend "around seven days" in Taipei City to get adjusted. "We'll be practicing all that time as well." The round robin competition will last for around five days, followed by the playoff round.

Nissen described getting the opportunity to represent his country as "a dream come true. Not only is it something I've always wanted to do, but it's also likely to open some future doors for me."

The 2017-2018 season "will be my final year playing basketball here. Hopefully basketball doesn't end for me" when next season is done.

"My dream has always been to keep playing after I'm done here, maybe in Europe," he said, adding, "it would be neat to be able to make basketball a career, even it was only for a year or two."

When Nissen finished Grade 12 at Kennebecasis Valley High in New Brunswick, his original intention was to further his education at Acadia and play for the basketball Axemen.

"I'd had a lot of CIS attention, but nothing from NCAA Division 1," he said. "I'd been talking a lot with (Axemen head coach) Steve Baur, and was pretty set on coming to Acadia."

In the meantime, he took a weekend trip with his mother, and ended up attending a tournament called the Caribana Classic, where he was scouted by the University of Maine. UMaine offered him a full scholarship to play NCAA D-1 basketball, "and once that was on the table, it was hard to say no."

He went to Maine "planning to stay for four years," but he experienced some knee problems, "and then a new coach who had never seen me play at my full potential due to the injuries."

After two years, he made the decision to return to Canada, and Acadia "was still very much in the mix" as a potential final destination. His final choice came down to Alberta and Acadia. "Coach Baur had left Acadia by that time, but he and Acadia had left their mark on me, and I felt more at home here."

Nissen was able to take advantage of a new CIS 'repatriation rule', which allowed Canadians attending university in the U.S. to return to Canada and play right away, without sitting out a year.

He continued to have some minor problems with his knees his first season with the Axemen. "I went home that summer (of 2016) and did lots of strength training and rehab. It not only helped my knees, it helped my overall game - and my knees are fine now."

Nissen, in fact, earned a berth on the second all-conference team following a 2016-2017 season that saw him average 18.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and lead the conference with 41 blocks.

" I tend to not worry as much about stats as wins and losses," he said. "I had a really good start, stats-wise, and I thought my game pretty much stayed at a steady level all season."

The Axemen will head into the 2017-2018 campaign knowing they will be hosting the U-Sport nationals, meaning they will receive an automatic berth into the Final Eight next March in Halifax.

"We're hosting nationals, but that doesn't change much," Nissen said. "We know going in that this could be our year, regardless. Everything is lining up well. Hosting nationals is pretty much a back-up, because our goal is to win the AUS. Our mindset is to be able to play with anyone in the country."

Without question, the departure of veterans Kyle Arseneault and A.J. Simmonds will leave a hole. "We wouldn't be where we are without what they brought to our program, but we have players (like Mitch Tempro and Ben Miller) stepping up and growing into their roles, and some good-looking recruits."

There is, he said, "definitely a different energy level on the team. There's a real good feeling when we're in the gym by ourselves, and we've already seen improvement in intrasquads.

"It's a feeling you can't really describe, but it's nice to see that kind of energy a month and a bit into the off-season. If we keep working like we have been, it should pay off for us."

Nissen is the only player his size on the Axemen roster, but as he points out, "there isn't a lot of real height in the AUS. It opens it up for us to play one 'big' and go the match-up route" at the other spots.

Outside of his Team Canada commitments, Nissen is planning to "spend as much time as I can" in the gym working out, and also help out with the Axemen summer camps.

He is planning to graduate with his Kinesiology degree in the spring of 2018., but he is "not 100 per cent sure" of what the future will hold for him.

"I can definitely see a future in education, working with kids as well as coaching," and he would still like to see what his future in basketball might hold, at least in the short term.

For now, though, "things are pretty good. We certainly have the team to win the conference - I can't see anything holding us back from doing that" - and make some noise at nationals.

As for there being extra pressure on him or any of his teammates, he said, "I don't think so, and besides, we don't think about that.

"In a lot of our games last year, different players stepped up at different times. We have so many weapons, there's no extra pressure on anyone to perform better." Overall, he said, "I like the way the team is set up. There's no one real 'go-to' player, and we feed off each other really well."

Nissen said he has no regrets about his decision to choose Acadia. "Everything has worked out better than even I thought it would, in every respect."