Kevin Nickelberry is staring at an uphill battle. The new Howard Bison basketball coach knows what’s at stake: his integrity, his program and its fans. Trying to match a perennial loser to a perennial powerhouse is no joke and it’s a situation that Nickelberry isn’t laughing at. The Bison haven’t had a double-digit winning season in eight years and the new coach knows that. He also knows about the expectations, the academic problems and the losing. But many believe he may also know how to fix everything. Nickelberry took over the Bison program earlier this year on May 4. On Oct. 14, the coach took some time to answer a few of the AFRO’s questions.

AFRO: Coach, the Washington, D.C., area is overflowing with talent and Howard is arguably at the heart of it all. But it’s been difficult for the school to recruit despite a prominent name and prestige. Why?
Nickelberry: I wish I knew the answer. It didn’t seem that hard when I was here as an assistant 18 years ago. But since I’ve been here in May we’ve gotten two BCS-talent big guys to come here. We’ve been able to get kids to commit or sign so I really don’t know why it’s been a problem. D.C. has really been a big part of my success. Howard is a national name. My guys are going to really hit the ground running and we’re going to go out and recruit some of the better talent locally and nationally to come .

AFRO: You’ve been here since May. What’s been your biggest challenge so far in trying to conduct your job and some of the issues you’ve faced?
Nickelberry: Probably mindset and having everyone believe. I have somewhat of a track history of taking programs that haven’t been winning and having some success. But changing the mindset of some of the Howard fans and the local people from believing that it’s business as usual and that we’re not going to get it done at Howard. We will get it done and hopefully those guys will jump on the bandwagon and we can change the mindset of the players. I know we can be a factor in the D.C. area. Winning’s going to be the answer it’s going to take some time to transplant that winning mentality into the Howard Bison nation.

AFRO: You talk about changing the mindset and the fans but that’s going to be hard for a lot of people. How frustrating has it been for everyone in general over these last few years and what can they look forward to?
Nickelberry: When you think about it, Howard has 17,000 alumni in Prince George’s County alone. We have more alumni in one county than most of the local schools have in all of the D.C. area. the fans have a right to be frustrated; we haven’t won. That’s the bottom line. I call a spade a spade; we have not gotten it done in basketball and we need to change it. My job is to change it and my job is not to make excuses. We will get all of these huge alumni to support us and Burr Gymnasium will be packed every night and we can make an impact. I’m excited. The future is very bright and it’s going to be very bright for those players and coaches who are able to turn around a sleeping giant such as Howard University.

AFRO: Coach, we all know that Howard is a national name. People come from miles around just to attend the homecomings and be around the facility. When you finally do get this program turned around, how huge would the impact be on the area?
Nickelberry: I think it would be unbelievable. I’m old enough to remember Larry Spriggs and (James) Ratliff and when was sold out and every Saturday and every weekend was an unbelievable weekend. I remember those days. I remember when it was packed in Burr and it was an unbelievable atmosphere and we were front page on the Washington Post and people talked about how good it was. Media and the Internet are more prevalent today, so it’s going to be even .

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO