“It was another step up – the best team in Italy and in the Euro League – the best 24 teams across Europe,” he said. “Again, I was kind of on that same path -- people saying the competition in the league was tough, I was too small and couldn’t have the success I’ve had. I just kind of played with a chip on my shoulder and ended up leading the Euro League in scoring. Trust me, I don’t know how I did it. But I did. It was just another big step. That year we also won the Italian League. That was a pretty nice accomplishment.”
After three seasons, three scoring titles and one Serie A championship, Nicholas had reached the pinnacle of Italian basketball. While Nicholas was undeniably happy with his success, another challenge loomed.
Istanbul is a city of more than 13 million people, making it by far Turkey’s largest city and the third-biggest metropolitan area in Europe behind London and Moscow. Coming from a series of charming Italian towns, Nicholas needed some time to get used to his new surroundings.
For two seasons in Turkey, Nicholas was a top performer for Efes Pilsen, averaging 17.3 points during the 2006-07 season and 12.7 points the following year. Nicholas’ success with EP, which raised his profile even more across Europe, led to his greatest pro opportunity.
In Panathinaikos, Nicholas was a star for one of Europe’s preeminent basketball franchises. His time in Athens couldn’t have gone much better.
“Greece was probably the best, probably where I felt the most at home,” said Nicholas, whose top contract paid $1.5 million. “I think a lot of that had to do with just the success we had as a team there. We won the Euro League championship, pretty much like winning the Final Four in college basketball. It was just a great, great experience.”
Nicholas, who teamed up with former Terp Sarunas Jasikevicius to help Panathinaikos win the 2009 championship, had cemented his status as one of Europe’s top players during his time in Greece. He was a three-time Greek All-Star with two Euro League rings. Even Nicholas, a confident yet realistic person by nature, was somewhat surprised by his European success.
“At the time, I was in such a different mindset,” Nicholas said. “I remember going out there and every night, just coming with a huge, huge chip on my shoulder. It’s kind of like all I’ve been through in my career. Everybody talked about how I couldn’t play at Maryland and I’d never be an ACC starter. Those kinds of things, they just stuck with me. Every time I got a chance to play, I felt like I had something to prove. I played angry. I just dedicated my life to see how talented I could be.”
The financial crisis in Greece led to pay cuts for Panathinaikos players, so Nicholas was on the move again after 2011. He landed in Milan with a team -- owned by Giorgio Armani – that “hasn’t won anything in the past 15 years.” Coming from Panathinaikos, where Nicholas was hoping to win the franchise’s first back-to-back titles, was a major difference.
“Just for whatever reason, it just didn’t fit,” Nicholas said. “Maybe I had just gotten so used to being with my team in Greece. Maybe the transition somewhere didn’t work.”
Whatever the case may be, Nicholas and Olimpia Milano proved to be a less-than-ideal fit. The shock of Nicholas’ departure to Euro League fans has finally seemed to die down, and while a couple Spanish teams would love to land Nicholas for their playoff run, the former Terp is content to focus on resting up and getting back in shape for the 2012-13 season.
Nicholas owns a condo in Fort Lauderdale and still travels back to New York frequently to visit his family. He keeps in touch with Steve Blake and played against Andre Collins in Italy. And while he doesn’t spend much of his time thinking about his college career, Nicholas credits his time at Maryland for preparing him for the pros.
No matter how much success Nicholas experiences overseas, this time of year always brings him back to Maryland's post-game scene in Atlanta 10 years ago.
“When I hear ‘One Shining Moment,’” Nicholas said, “it takes you back to 2002.”