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Hoops takes Kendrick Nichols to Santa Fe

New Mexico Highlands University alum Kendrick Nichols, a former pro player in Mexico, is an assistant coach at Santa Fe High School and is in the first year of teaching a financial literacy course that he’s creating as he goes. (Courtesy of New Mexico Highlands University)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Play hoops, see the world.

That was the game plan for New Mexico Highlands University alum Kendrick Nichols.

While it didn’t quite work out that way for the Chicago native, he did get a chance to play in Sinaloa, Mexico, after finishing his career and studies with the Cowboys, for whom he averaged 16 points and 4.6 rebounds as an undersized wing forward.

And when he had a chance to return to New Mexico to coach, he snapped up an assistant coach position with Santa Fe High School.

Now, not only is Nichols a Demons assistant, but also he is teaching a new financial literacy course that he is essentially creating as he goes.

“It’s my first year of actually teaching and trying to adjust to that virtual learning,” he said. “At first, it was a rough process, learning to work the system. I tell people (that), six months ago, I never even thought I’d be a teacher. Now, I’m trying to teach myself and teach the kids.”

Nichols earned his degree in university studies, which includes general coursework over a number of different disciplines. But among those courses he took were several related to business.

“One of my cores was business management,” he said. “So I took business law, business ethics, business, business management.”

Nichols used that experience and a financial planning and literacy guide provided by Nusenda Credit Union to form the basis of his course.

“It falls under the mathematics category but, more, I’m just teaching them about real-life situations. The past two months, it’s been about how to properly budget and manage money, learning about different financial institutions, such as the difference between a credit union and bank. How to set up a checking account and a savings account. How to go about renting and why renting at a young age may be better than looking to buy a home. How to calculate things. See what steps to purchase a car, how to calculate insurance and gas costs. Everything I’m teaching them is geared to real life when they get out of college.”

Coaching and teaching are both coming quite naturally, Nichols said.

“I always thought I had a knack for it,” he said. “One thing I do like, I always liked, is giving back knowledge to high schoolers. I thought this would be a good opportunity here in Santa Fe, being from Chicago and playing high school in Chicago.”

Nichols said he’s teaching the type of course he wishes he had when he was in high school.

“Honestly, I thought about all the stuff I could have capitalized on and didn’t,” he said. “I remind the kids all the time how lucky they are to have a course like this.”

He’s also been working hard with the Demons basketball team and that has become a perennial factor in postseason play.

Santa Fe had three players graduate and star Fedonta “J.B.” White worked through his senior coursework during the summer before being tragically killed in a shooting.

But the Demons still have plenty of talent and spirit that Nichols and the other Santa Fe coaches have been trying to get ready for January when/if the season actually is allowed to unfold early next year.

“With basketball, I’m just helping the kids in general. I do want to help the kids,” he said. “We pretty much do morning workouts. We started off for about three weeks, strictly outside. Then we had to come up with a plan, how many kids in pods, how to go about it, moving them around, especially when we moved into the gym.”

It’s been tough on everybody, Nichols admitted, but it has been important for the players.

“Every morning, each coach is with a pod,” he said. “We do ball handling, shooting drills, passing drills, basic fundamentals and things like that. Nothing too out of the ordinary. We just need to keep the kids engaged.”

That’s particularly important after what happened with White, Nichols said.

“They have their ups and downs, especially with the varsity team,” he said. “They gravitate to me and look at me as an older brother. They see what’s going on in other states and wonder why we can’t compete. But they’re taking it to heart. They understand.”

As for losing White, it is something that each player has to kind of deal with internally.

“We try to look at the right side of things, all his positives, what he did for the team and the program, and what he did for Santa Fe,” Nichols said. “We try not to focus too much on it. Some of the kids, they were pretty hurt by the whole situation. But now, we’re moving on. They’re back in the gym and back around each other.”

And Nichols reminds the players to keep working hard on basketball, on school and on life.

“My experience with basketball, one thing I can say is basketball can take you to places you wouldn’t expect,” he said. “I never thought I would be coaching them in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or playing in Mexico. People I played with in high school in Chicago are playing in the NBA. So I tell them to embrace the game and love it. It can take you somewhere. To an education and who knows where.”



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