Happy Senior Day, Nino!

We have a tradition in my family that we give tummy babies fun nicknames.  My older sister Betsy was Bozo and is now notoriously clumsy.  My little sister Abby was Abishag (from the Robert Frost poem Provide, Provide, naturally) and she started her life with a full head of hair that refused to lay down.

My tummy name was Jesus Sylvester.  Why?  Who knows.  How has that shaped me?  Remains to be seen.

When Betsy started having kids, they kept the tradition going.  Anna was Izzy, named for the patron saint of Agriculture, Isidore.  Katie was Tummy (Anna’s choice), Jimmy was Threesie, and Teddy was Grazie (he was a November baby).

So of course, when we found out we were going to have a baby, one of the first things we did is come up with a tummy name.  Naming things is not new to our household either.  We name our cars (Harvey and Melvin), we name our tablets (Leo and Gordon), we name our laptop (Piper) and my iPod (Squirt).  In my first full-time grown-up job, I even named the office printer Nelson and everyone just kind of went with it.  Naming is what we do.  So our tummy baby needed to have a really good name.

The initial due date was June 30th, changed quickly to July 7th after an early sonogram.  We started with July names – Julio, Indy.  Steven actually thought of and settled on Jules… for a whole 5 hours before I changed it to the current and proper name:

Nino.

According to Steven, Nino (Nin) in Greek means him or her.

And in Spanish it means little boy.

But to me, it means Nino Williams, my all-time favorite K-State basketball player.

nino
I mean, c’mon. That goofy grin? How can you not love him?

Nino hasn’t had the best time of it.  He’s the kind of player that only exists and thrives at K-State. He’s the reason that I love K-State athletics so much.  Coach Snyder has recruited and developed hundreds of Nino Williams on the football field, but it’s a much harder thing to do in basketball.  You should really read the article about him, but just in case you don’t, here are the highlights of Nino’s journey to today:

  • grew up in a house with his mom and 6 brothers and sisters.  His Dad left when Nino was very young.
  • transferred to a basketball prep school in Kansas City that turned out to be fake.
  • a local family in Leavenworth heard about the story and legally adopted him so he could go to school and play basketball
  • Nino arrived at the Leavenworth school with a 1.3 GPA
  • He attended special classes and schools over the summer breaks to fix his GPA so he would be academically eligible for an NCAA Division I program
  • He was signed by Frank Martin and arrived at K-State in 2010
  • Since then he has made the Big 12 Honor Roll twice and has already earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Had to redshirt his first season due to multiple concussions sustained in practice. (Seriously, Frank.  What were you doing to those kids?)
  • Has battled through countless injuries and multiple knee surgeries and is nicknamed “Old Man Legs” by his team.
  • Started almost every game of his senior season and was named Big 12 Player of the Week twice.

Nino is a fighter.  He’s scrappy.  He’s the underdog that just won’t quit.  There were so many points along his journey where he could have laid down, transferred, given up entirely.  But through it all, he just kept playing.  Kept working.  Kept scrapping.  In his senior season, he’s been the consistent bright spot in a very frustrating year.

“It hasn’t always been good, but, at the same time, it has always been good,” says Nino Williams, pausing to smile. “That probably doesn’t make any sense. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I learned from it – all of it. It helped me with life and it taught me how to make it through tough situations. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I’ve always had a tendency to root for the 6th man.  That first guy off the bench that can’t quite crack the starting lineup but brings energy and passion and spark to the game from the second he enters.  Nino was the perfect 6th man and I was nervous when he broke into the top 5 this season.  But man, I love watching him on defense.  Last year, whenever the team was stressing me out, I’d just watch Nino, especially on defense.  He’s always got his hands on someone, like a younger sibling that just won’t. stop. touching you.  I love the way he rebounds.  I love that smooth jump shot.  I love that he sort of lumbers back on offense, because he’s got to take his rests where he can get them.  I love that he’s adopted the Snyder system of letting the game come to him, and not trying to force himself to do something new or flashy that his body can’t handle.  I love that he outworks every person on the floor, and that he’s always the one in the middle of a scrum.  I love how humble he is, and how just before tip-off, even from our high, high seats at the top of Bramlage, you can see his smile, lighting up the court.  He plays happy.  He plays scrappy.  He’s relentless.

“He gets hurt on almost every play,” Bruce Weber says. “You feel bad, but that is who he is. He plays with reckless abandon. It is one of his strengths, but, unfortunately, it has led to injuries. It’s just a good thing he is tough.”

And now it’s his Senior Day and time for us all to say goodbye.  Senior Day is always emotional for me, but this year, as I think about our Baby Nino and the uncharted life ahead, I wonder if he or she will ever have their own Senior Day.  The idea is completely mind boggling right now, as I smile about baby Nino’s tiny little kicks to my gut.  But regardless of what this baby turns out to be, I hope they’re inspired by their tummy namesake to persevere.  To keep trying.  To keep fighting and stay positive.  We’d all be a lot better off if we worked half as hard as Nino Williams.

NinoCoach
My guys.

On Big Monday, with the game on the line and the KU fans hovering nervously all around us, Steven and I lost our minds when Nino got to make this shot:

Some nights you will always remember!! #emaw

A post shared by Nino (@nwill11) on

It was the perfect climax to 10 years of struggle.  The perfect play, on the perfect day, for the perfect player, in the perfect place.  It was K-State.  It was the reason we suffered through this horribly long season.  It was the peak.

Happy Senior Day, buddy.  Thanks for sticking with it.  We miss you already.

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