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Ryan Nicholas will be in the middle of the action as Gonzaga Prep attempts to defend its GSL title. (Christopher Anderson)

Pups’ center of attention

Nicholas gives Gonzaga Prep leadership on, off court

Coeur d’Alene boys basketball coach Kent Leiss has seen several talented post players in his 21 years as a head coach.

None is better than 6-foot-7, 235-pound Ryan Nicholas of Gonzaga Prep.

Leiss made that statement based on watching Nicholas play last summer. The coach was convinced all the more after Nicholas scored a game-high 19 points in Gonzaga Prep’s 58-43 win over CdA in a season-opening game between the teams Tuesday.

“He’s better than Brock Osweiler,” Leiss said, referencing the 6-9 player from Flathead in Kalispell, Mont., who gave Gonzaga University an oral commitment before opting to play football at Arizona State. “He can run, he can shoot 3-pointers and he’s unstoppable around the basket. He’s a man-child.”

Nicholas signed a letter of intent with Portland last month.

“Ryan is a warrior,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said in a school news release. “Physically, he could play for us right now. He has a very high basketball IQ combined with tremendous toughness and passion for the game. Ryan’s leadership and work ethic will be evident the day he arrives on campus.”

Nicholas, the lone returning first-team all-Greater Spokane League selection, averaged 14.9 points per game last year when he led the Bullpups to fourth at state. He was named to the State 4A all-tournament second team.

He will make life much more pleasant this season for G-Prep graduate Matty McIntyre in his first year as head coach. Nicholas is the Bullpups’ lone returning starter.

McIntyre must fill some holes. Were the GSL coaches unfair by tabbing the team with a coach in his first head coaching position the favorite?

Not necessarily, if you listen to McIntyre or Nicholas.

“We don’t expect anything less than to be challenging for a league title,” McIntyre said.

“I’m not surprised,” Nicholas said. “I’ve always been confident that we can compete for the (league) title this year. Losing the players that we lost, I will notice their absence just because I played with them for two years and they were great players. But the guys who are going to fill their spots are great players as well. We have some young guys who are just waiting for the opportunity. It’s nice that the other coaches have recognized it and given credit where credit is due.”

McIntyre knows that Nicholas will play a huge role in the Bullpups’ success.

“He’s so relentless to the basket,” McIntyre said. “He just seems to have an extra gear. He’s got a motor I’ve never seen. He never seems to get fatigued. He’s very committed to getting every ounce of energy out of his body. I’m just glad I don’t have to come up with a game plan to defend him.”

If Nicholas must carry his team on his back – and he doesn’t think he will have to, by the way – he has the thick shoulders to carry the load.

“I’ve been asked if I’ve lost any inspiration for the game since I’ve already signed,” Nicholas said. “It was never about proving myself to a college. It’s about proving to myself that I can become the best that I can be. That’s what I work towards.”

McIntyre said that character trait of being self-driven manifests itself in many avenues of Nicholas’ life.

“I really want to talk about Ryan the student and citizen as well as the athlete,” McIntyre said. “He’s stellar in the classroom. He has a 3.9 grade-point average. And you should see him interact with his peers. He’s very kind and polite. I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone. What a great young man to lead a younger group of kids.”