by Patrick Gustavson
For the past three years, one of the most familiar faces of Central Connecticut State University’s men’s basketball team has been guard Austin Nehls; from the moment he took the court, he has had a major impact on the program.
As a freshman, Nehls showed himself to be a workhorse, leading the team in minutes, averaging 35 per game. He was not only always present on the court, but also made the most of his time, averaging over 11 points a game—good enough for second on the team. He was also named to the Northeast Conference all-rookie team. His performance only improved as a sophomore, averaging more points per game with—somehow—increased playing time.
Despite his own success, the team struggled greatly, winning just 11 games in two seasons. The previous struggles make the successes of this years’ team that much sweeter for Nehls.
“We have almost as many wins as I’ve had in the last two years and we’ve still got 12 or 13 (games) left,” Nehls said. “It feels good and it’s a lot of hard work that’s finally paying off. It’s a great feeling. I think we’re only going to get better and continue to build on what we have so far.”
Nehls is best known for his three-point shooting ability. On the current season, he is shooting 38 percent on threes, and a whopping 72 percent of his field goals attempted have come from beyond the arc. Despite the success, he got off to a rough start in NEC conference play, connecting on just five of 21 threes attempted.
During his struggles, he has tried to remain positive.
“My last game was the least amount of threes I’ve ever taken. I only took two, and one of them was a half-courter, so really only one shot,” Nehls said. “So, I told myself, ‘I’m going to shoot. I’m a great shooter.’ I need to believe in myself and, even if the defender is there, I’ve got to let it fly. When I only take one shot, the defense doesn’t respect it. If I’m making shots, it gives other guys space, because they can’t leave me.”
Head coach Donyell Marshall also echoed these sentiments, saying: “Austin has to get out [of] his head. We keep telling him, ‘You’ve got to shoot the ball. We’re running plays for you to shoot the ball, you need to shoot.’”
Even when he’s not scoring, Nehls looks to contribute anywhere else he can.
“I always try to move and set screens for people and make sure I’m spaced out, so they have room to drive,” he explained. “Defensively, I’m not the greatest on-ball defender, but off-the-ball, I know where to be and where screens are coming from, so I try to relay that to the rest of the team.”
One thing that Nehls has never been able to experience is a trip to an NEC tournament game, due to the team failing to qualify in the last two seasons. However, he believes his team is destined to get there this year, saying: “The goal was to make the tournament. Once you get to the tournament, anything can happen at the right time. It was good to get some of these losses out of the way because you don’t want to peak too early. So, if we get our hot streak going right at the end of the season, we’ll be prime for the tournament.”
Not only does Nehls hope to play in his first conference tournament game, he also hopes to have it played at home, saying that the CCSU fans are the “best in the NEC.”
He continued by saying: “They’re loud for us. They cheer for us. Even when we were losing games the past two years, they were coming out and supporting us. So, now that we’re winning, they’re coming out even more.”
If the Blue Devils look to make a run in the NEC, Nehls will surely be a key factor.