The Gonzaga Bulldogs ended last year at heartbreak, but with a stable of players that made fans believe they’d be right back to fight for a championship starting in October. That talent only multiplied in the following weeks, when Rasir Bolton announced his transfer, and then four-star recruit Nolan Hickman announced he de-committed from Kentucky and chose Gonzaga as his future home.
Hickman may be as under the radar as it gets for a Top 30 recruit entering his freshman season, largely because of the depth of the Zags backcourt and his fellow freshmen being Chet Holmgren (ranked 1st), Hunter Sallis (20th) and late rankings-riser Kaden Perry (52nd). But Hickman could be a player that unlocks a lot of things for the Bulldogs this season.
The Seattle native joins Andrew Nembhard as the only two pure point guards on the roster. Hickman would start for the majority of programs in the country due to his skills as a truly elite passer and ballhandler and more than capable shot creator. He’s a prototypical floor general who plays largely with his head-up, scoping the defense and out-maneuvering opponents with his handles and ability to change his speed.
The 6’1” point guard is a treat to watch handle the basketball, as he can effortlessly get to any spot he wants to with his handles. His bag of off-the-dribble moves is deep and allows for him to create his own shot at all levels of the offense. And both of these components to his playstyle make him a plus passer, as he has one of the quicker releases out there darting dimes on a thread.
Hickman joins Jalen Suggs as one of the best two-way point guards Mark Few has landed at Gonzaga. He doesn’t showcase as many home run, high-risk passes as Suggs did in high school and his year at Gonzaga, but he has displayed a more mature ability in half-court sets. He is incredibly comfortable orchestrating the offense and hunting his own shot to keep defenses guessing.
The McDonald’s All-American’s competitive streak also makes him a great on-ball defender on defense, utilizing his great court vision on the other end as well. He loves to challenge his man when bringing up the ball and will be one of the best lane disruptors and pickpocketers on the roster.
Like many of his teammates this season, it’s hard to predict exactly how much run Hickman will ultimately have with the minutes available. As he told Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review, he looks forward to the backcourt competition:
“My thing is, iron sharpens iron,” said Hickman, who recently celebrated his 18th birthday. “I can’t wait to play with (Nembhard) and against him in practice. He’s experienced at this level. That’s something I may need being a rook to the college thing. He may teach me the ropes. That’s the type of thing that is beneficial in my position.”
It’s entirely possible that he pushes Nembhard for minutes and Few goes the route of retaining a pure floor general on the court at all times this season. He could be the ultimate security blanket while also an early bench player that extends the offense and pushes the tempo to break the will of opponents.
Hickman prides himself on his winning culture and leadership, which was on full display this summer during his basketball camp for his charity The GiveBack Foundation, helping students and basketball players in western Washington. That drive is rare for an athlete, let alone an 18-year-old preparing himself to start a new journey like college.
It’s clear that the NBA is in his future, so a season learning the system and elevating the offense followed by a year of Few giving him the keys and the driver’s seat feels entirely plausible. In either one year or two, there’s going to be plenty of times the Zags and their fans are going to be thankful to have him.