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Nick Havener is indefinable.
He’s both incredibly athletic and spectacularly unpolished. He’s long and sturdy enough to body up with big men down low. He’s simultaneously nimble and coordinated enough to run with guards along the perimeter. He’s energetic and vocal, but extremely foul-prone. At times, he’s the heart and soul of the Boston University men’s basketball team. And on other occasions, he closes himself off from the game.
On the one hand, he’s a gamebreaker, a physically dominant power forward capable of enforcing his will on his opponent.
See Feb. 17, when the Terriers hosted Colgate University. With his team stuck in a 44-44 second-half deadlock against the then 12-13 Raiders, Havener took over. Over the final 13 minutes, he contributed 10 points, highlighted by a momentum-shifting putback slam, three emphatic blocks and two steals en route to a pivotal 71-68 win.
On the other hand, Havener can also break the game. He often lets his aggressiveness get the best of him, which confines him to the bench. On Feb. 3 against the United States Naval Academy, Havener logged just one minute in the second half, but committed three costly fouls and made an early exit during crunch time.
So which player is he?
Only time will tell.
Coming into the 2015-16 campaign, Havener needed to find his role. After averaging 8.1 minutes per game as a rookie, he’d gotten the chance to see the game, to observe the difference in speed and size from his days at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida. But going into “Year Two,” he searched for a niche.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan. When the injury bug struck the Terriers, sidelining veterans such as senior forward Justin Alston and junior guard Cedric Hankerson, Havener adapted on the fly. Nearly overnight, the sophomore transformed into a 20-minute-per-game player, a change that took him by surprise, but one that he accepted nonetheless.
“It was tough being thrown into it,” Havener said. “But [BU] Coach [Joe Jones] did a really good job of preparing every single one of us, that if we didn’t have an opportunity to play a lot of minutes, that we’d be ready for it. I still think I’m transitioning. I think there’s a lot of things that I’m still adjusting to … It was definitely more of a shock, and logging a lot of minutes is tiring, but I can’t really complain.”
Thankfully for Havener, he knew where to start building his role. The previous season, Jones had designated him the team cheerleader. He asked Havener to bring the energy and a loud voice every time he touched the floor. This year, with two major team leaders restricted to the bench, Havener has committed himself fully to Jones’ mantra of “talk, talk, talk.”
Havener brings the energy in tangible ways on the court. His 6-foot-8 frame and elite jumping ability make him a force on the boards. According to Sports Reference, Havener is third in the Patriot League with a 16.6 total rebounding percentage. He set a career-high Feb. 23 against the United States Military Academy when he pulled down 15 boards in 24 minutes.
“I’m always checking the rebounding stats,” Havener said. “Honestly, if I don’t have 10 rebounds in a game, I beat myself up about it.”
Perhaps Havener’s greatest attribute, however, is his defense. Despite his size, he’s remarkably agile, which keeps him step for step with most guards. This skill is invaluable, particularly on pick-and-rolls, because it allows the Terriers to switch without sacrificing their defensive integrity. With Havener capably manning the wing, BU can remain patient and switch back when the opportunity presents itself.
Havener’s defensive prowess isn’t limited to playing the wing, either. He’s also comfortable jostling with big bodies on the low block. He tends to lull post players into lane before using his length and positioning to force low-percentage shots.
“I love playing against post players because they always think they’re smarter than me,” Havener said. “I just body them up, make sure he doesn’t get past me … I’m a lot quicker, so if he shoots a shot over me, I’m fine with that. I’ve got long arms and a tall body.”
Havener is the second-best defender in the Patriot League according to defensive rating, a statistic that measures how many points each player gives up per 100 possessions. He’s racked up the fourth most blocks in the conference (39) and the sixth most steals (35).
[/vc_column_text][vc_line_chart style=”modern” x_values=”Nick Havener; Dylan Haines; Nate Dieudonne; Blaise Mbargorba” values=”%5B%7B%22title%22%3A%22Points%20Allowed%22%2C%22y_values%22%3A%2294.6%3B%20100.0%3B%20101.8%3B%20104.4%22%2C%22color%22%3A%22juicy-pink%22%7D%2C%7B%22title%22%3A%22Points%22%2C%22y_values%22%3A%2299.3%3B%2090.8%3B%20104.7%3B%20108.3%22%2C%22color%22%3A%22blue%22%2C%22custom_color%22%3A%22%236ab165%22%7D%5D” title=”BU Big Men Per 100 Possessions”][vc_column_text]
Modestly, Havener calls himself “a good defender.” His coach agrees.
“He’s good,” Jones said about Havener’s value on the defensive end. “He’s got quick hands, he’s long, he blocks shots, gets his hands on balls and he brings a lot to the table in that area.”
On offense, Havener has worked tirelessly to become a facilitator. He admitted that early in the season, he struggled with the ball in his hands around the perimeter. But he found a home at the high post at the outset of conference play and hasn’t looked back.
Nowadays, BU often runs its offense through Havener at the high post, where he has the option to drive, shoot the mid-range jumper, dribble handoff or find a cutter through the lane. He said playing from the top of the key helps him see the whole floor and find the open man.
Jones lauded Havener’s development as a facilitator.
“He’s got great decision-making [ability],” Jones said. “He’s a great passer, has a great feel for the game, very unselfish, sees the floor, sees plays happening before they happen.”
Havener’s watershed moment as a passing big man came in a home tilt against Bucknell University on Jan. 23. Late in the first half, the Terriers went to him at the high post to start a possession. After surveying the floor for a few seconds, he snapped off a pass to his fellow big man, senior Nathan Dieudonne, for an easy dunk from the low block. The next time down the floor, BU ran the play again, netting the same result.
Havener counts this simple succession among the highlights of his season. He said it gave him the confidence to trust his instincts and distribute the ball with authority.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to see his high-low chemistry with Dieudonne develop much further. On Feb. 10, the Patriot League All-Defensive Team standout broke his foot in a matchup with American University. The injury dealt another major blow to an already depleted BU squad. It also put even more responsibility on Havener’s shoulders.
Havener and Dieudonne flip-flopped positions on the floor before the injury. And so with Dieudonne out, Havener has had to bear the brunt of his loss, and he’s struggled at times.
Havener tends to play aggressively on both ends of the floor, a trait he picked up from his childhood days at the park. He said a lot of players back home are physically gifted like him, so the refs make fewer calls and it leads to a more lenient game.
However, collegiate referees punish hyper-aggressiveness, and Havener has proven to be an ample target.
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“My dad was a football player, so he’s very physical,” Havener said. “I would always play on the playground and be super physical, like block people’s shots and push them to the ground. Nothing would be a foul — we would call our own fouls and everything. And coming to college … you just pet a guy and it’s a foul.”
Despite the debilitating effect it can have on his team, Jones embraces Havener’s physicality and intensity.
“I think sometimes you just have to kind of go through it,” Jones said. “So from an experience standpoint, you start to get a feel for what you can get away with and what you can’t. But you don’t want to take away the kid’s aggressiveness, because that’s what makes him good.”
According to Dieudonne, the key for Havener is harnessing his physical gifts. He said Havener needs to play smarter on the floor in order to bolster his longevity and playability.
“I guess the thing with him is he’s just kind of undeveloped athleticism,” Dieudonne said. “For him, it’s just knowing what to do. If you tell him what to do and he does it, he does fine. Whenever he deviates from that, he kind of messes things up a little bit. It’s just keeping his head on straight. He’s fine physically, it’s just making sure he’s always focusing and doing the right things.”
Havener not only battles himself physically, but mentally as well. He has a tendency to shut down when he and his team go into a slump. He stops communicating and closes himself off from everyone around him. He’s worked extensively to control the habit, but he said it still creeps up on him at times.
Jones and his coaching staff are aware of Havener’s self-deprecating nature. Jones said as much as Havener is evolving on the court, he’s maturing psychologically as well. His message to Havener is simple.
“I hope in this next stretch that it comes together for him and he’s able over time to relax and just play and have some fun playing basketball,” Jones said. “Because that’s what it’s all about, is just enjoying playing, and those are things we just try to reiterate to him over and over, is just enjoy it. Enjoy the experience, enjoy playing the game that you love to play.”
He added, “Going forward, we just have to continue to work with him and develop him. But he’s got a lot of tools to work with, and I’m just pleased he’s on our side. I love coaching that kid.”
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After every one of his games, Havener looks at the box score. In particular, he always notes BU’s team rebounding statistics. But he also checks his individual numbers, searching for new ways to elevate his game.
“One big thing I’ve noticed is I’ve been turning over the ball a lot less, which was a big problem before conference play” he said. “My offensive efficiency numbers went down, so I’m working on taking better shots in games. But I have also seen that my rebounds have gone up, my blocks, steals and other defensive numbers have gone up in the box scores as well.
“I definitely have room for improvement.”
He does, and everyone else knows it too.
Dieudonne said Havener needs to work on his team defense and focus less on securing attractive stats like blocks and steals.
“If someone beats someone off the dribble, do you know when to stunt and when to stay?” Dieudonne postured. “Do you know who you’re guarding, so how long you can stunt? It’s those small nuances of the game that you get from playing so many minutes … So it’s just stuff like that. And he’s come a long way since last year. That’s the only thing — he’s good at blocking shots, he’s going to go get some steals, but it’s just team defense that’s really important.”
Jones expects Havener to cultivate his post game. He’s seen flashes of brilliance from him on the low block, but now it’s about becoming a consistent threat.
“Nick can hurt you in a lot of different ways, and that’s just one way,” Jones said. “He’s developing into being a guy that can score with his back to the basket.”
Some have floated the idea of Havener becoming an outside threat in order to stretch the floor and open lanes for Terrier penetrators. Havener is confident he can do it — he just needs to get more shots up in the gym.
This season, in the face of constant adversity, Havener’s shown that he’s willing to become whatever his team needs him to be. So instead of honing in on a singular identity, maybe it’s best to take on as many as possible?
He might always be foul-prone. He might turn into a potent offensive weapon. He might never move past some mental blocks. He might become the ultimate winner. He might never reach his true potential. He might exceed it.
Havener will never fit the mold. But he can certainly break it.