If you look hard enough there’s always a West Virginia connection and that will be no different when Florida visits the Coliseum for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge Saturday.
Gators assistant Darris Nichols is a familiar name to anybody that has followed the Mountaineers basketball program.
That is because he was a four-year letterman for the program and was recruited by John Beilein before Bob Huggins took over and coached him for his senior season.
The starting point guard for that club, the Virginia native held lead the Mountaineers to a 26-11 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That run is actually fresh on Huggins’ mind as the quarantine allowed him the opportunity to watch that three-game span where the Mountaineers beat Arizona and Duke before falling to Xavier in overtime.
“I saw three games of Darris and he ran the show. He did a great job running the show,” Huggins said.
Nichols was a critical part of that first Huggins team because he was relied on to help get people in the right spots and relaying it to his teammates.
“He had a really ugly looking jump shot but for some reason it went in. We played a lot of different defenses back then but Darris was the guy that really helped get people where they were supposed to be,” Huggins said. “Darris picked it up very quickly. The great thing was he didn’t just pick it up but he helped other people.”
Nichols’ foray into coaching didn’t come as a surprise to Huggins, who always felt that he was essentially a coach on the floor during his time with him. He made the transition from one system to another seamlessly and not only understood it but was able to relay things to his teammates to help them.
“His understanding of the game, how to play it. Darris was like a quarterback on our team. He got the ball where it was supposed to go, when it was supposed to go there,” Huggins said. “And defensively he helped the guys be where they were supposed to be the gaps they were supposed to be.”
Nichols has risen up the coaching ladder in relatively quick fashion starting as a graduate assistant with the Mountaineers during the 2010-11 season. He then moved onto Northern Kentucky for two seasons and then spent a year at Wofford before taking a job at Louisiana Tech where he linked up with current Gators coach Mike White. He has been at Florida since where he has further blossomed as an assistant.
While the pathway never surprised Huggins, the timing of it all somewhat did.
“I was honestly a little bit surprised he didn’t keep playing for a little while,” he said.
Now Nichols will return to the floor he once played as a player on the opposing sideline squaring off against the coach that once coached him.