Basketball teammates grow friendship, skills together

GVL / Archive 
Senior center Nick Waddell (2) goes up for a rebound during a previous game.

GVL Archives

GVL / Archive Senior center Nick Waddell (2) goes up for a rebound during a previous game.

Brady Fredericksen

Transfer students a year ago, senior men’s basketball players James Thomas and Nick Waddell came to Grand Valley State University knowing one thing: basketball.

That is, until they met each other. Since that arrival, the duo’s friendship has strengthened on the court and off.

You’ll notice them around campus, likely because Thomas is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard while Waddell is a big man in every sense of the word, standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing in at 262 pounds.

“(Nick’s) kind of the first person I met when I got here, he came in the same time I did, so we went through the same things at the same time,” Thomas said. “Just last year, going through all the stuff we went through, made our friendship stronger. We both love basketball and we have the same plans after college to continue playing overseas, so we have the same dream.”

While both have similar plans after college, their paths to GVSU were polar opposites after high school.

Waddell, originally from Chicago, had a movement-filled career prior to GVSU. After beginning his college career at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., Waddell played a season of basketball and transferred to New Mexico Junior College before finally arriving at GVSU last season.

“Obviously he’s kind of bigger than everyone else,” said Thomas, who lived with Waddell last year and during the summer this year. “I think him just playing our center position is just kind of sets him apart from everyone — and me. I see us as the inside and outside of our team.”

That inside-out combo has become the Lakers’ biggest strength this season. Both have been named GLIAC Player of the Week this season, and with his move to the bench Waddell has been able to spark the team’s sometimes-struggling

“It just shows his work ethic and how much he dedicated to winning and improving is individual skills,” said Thomas, who has averaged 14.7 points per game this season. “He’s a hard worker, and I think that shows how much hard work he’s put into it.”

That hard work has been reflected in Waddell’s summer. The big man dropped 30 pounds this off-season, in part because of the work he put in working with Thomas this summer.

“Losing weight was a big thing for me, but it also helped me and my health,” said Waddell, who has averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season. “(JT) just works harder than the next person, and that helped me over the summer. Every time he went to the gym I’d go with him, and that helped me to lose the weight.”

Thomas on the other hand, has had a more direct route to GVSU. After playing locally at Grand Rapids Christian High School, Thomas played two seasons at Grand Rapids Community College.

While there, Thomas landed on the NJCAA Second Team All-American team.

Whether it be assisting Waddell’s summer work, or improving his own game, Thomas has shown a work ethic that’s admired by both Waddell and GVSU head coach Ric Wesley.

“He has a very good work ethic, and he’s a very physically gifted player,” Wesley said. “He just has lots of energy
lots of drive. He really helps set a standard in terms of effort in practice.”

With a final stretch of the season to go, it’s unknown what the duo and team can accomplish, but Wesley said the duo has gone through the same issues and gotten assimilated to college together.

“When you come in you need a friend,” he said. “They’ve got a nice chemistry and bond between them. Hopefully that’s something that will last long after Grand Valley.”

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