Anthony Nolen acknowledged that one of the major influences in his decision to sign with Bellevue University in Nebraska was that it was an established program.
After suffering through a 2-23 campaign as a freshman at Merced College, the sophomore shooting guard had no intention of joining another rebuilding project. Ironically, Nolen said if it weren’t for the motivation provided by that painful first season, he might not be signing anywhere.
“I think it shows that I had a lot of fight and that I didn’t give up easy,” Nolen said. “Whether we had a good team or a bad team, I was still going out and trying my hardest, trying to score and play defense. Playing at Merced taught me to go out and get it each night.”
Nolen made it official on Thursday afternoon. Surrounded by family and teammates, he signed a letter of intent to finish out his career at a Bellevue school that was ranked No. 5 in NAIA Division II to close the season. The Bruins went 25-11 and reached the semifinals of the NAIA Division II Championship Tournament.
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“They’re just a great program,” Nolen said. “They just win a lot and they said I could finish up my education, which was a big thing for me. I’m excited to get to play two more years and to get to do it at the next level.”
Bellevue gets a versatile scorer who is equally adept at getting to the basket as he is at letting fly from the outside.
Nolan averaged 18 points per game as a sophomore, shooting 41 percent from the field and 39 percent beyond the arc. He also got to the free throw line a team-high 188 times, sinking 77 percent of them. He helped Merced finish second in the Central Valley Conference and got the Blue Devils in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“A.J. and our other sophomore Jose Gonzalez had that fuel and desire to keep playing basketball,” MC coach Bill Russell said. “This year we added some pieces in Josh Willingham and Deonta Woodard coming back, and I think that really gave them great opportunities as scorers. To have defenses forced to concentrate on others, instead of just them, opened things up and they took advantage.
“I think the main difference for Anthony this season was he started taking his academics far more seriously. He understood that if he wanted to continue playing anywhere, it had to start there. Grades are certainly something that can stop you, so he took that understanding and got done what he had to do.”