NEW CASTLE —
February 8, 2012.
Inside the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., Nick Colella waited.
“It’s not the most fun place to play in,” he later joked. “Everything I had worked for, that was it.”
In a late-season Big Ten battle between Michigan State and Penn State — a relatively meaningless game in the standings to the 10-14 Nittany Lions at that point — nothing could have meant more to Colella.
It was a culmination of a four-year effort. It was a goal that others thought unreachable for the New Castle native. But now, it was happening.
After all the time and sacrifice put in, all doubts were put to rest at 6:30 on that early February evening — Nick Colella was starting.
“He drove himself and drove himself,” Nick’s mother, Linda Colella, said. “He knew what he wanted, and he got it. He has a drive and he doesn’t quit.”
That was a high mark in what has been a less-than-conventional college career for Colella. The fifth-year senior has been through it all. When Penn State battles Michigan in its opening matchup in the Big Ten Tournament at 2:30 p.m. today, it will signal the final stages of what has been a wild ride.
Nick was a tireless worker during high school. Along with maintaining solid grades, he worked with his older brothers, Michael and David Jr., for his uncle, Gary Pezzuolo, at his construction business. David went on to play baseball at Westminster College, while Michael attended Slippery Rock University.
“These kids worked hard during high school,” Linda Colella said. “My oldest, when they first started working there, we would take him on the weekends sometimes at 6 a.m. and sometimes on a Sunday. There was never a problem, even getting them up for school on Monday.”
In his senior year for the Red Hurricane, basketball seemed like the furthest thing from Nick Colella’s mind. Though he played the sport and thrived, averaging 13.1 points a game his final season, Colella had different plans for his future.
“I played baseball, basketball and football at New Castle,” he said. “I thought for sure I would be playing baseball in college. A lot of the letters I got were from Division III schools to play on their baseball teams.”
It wasn’t until he caught the eye of Penn State-Behrend assistant coach Justin Jennings during the summer that Colella’s future took a different path.
“Coach Jennings came up after one of my games I played in a league at Slippery Rock,” Colella said. “He did some research on me and said he was very interested. He gave me all of this information about Behrend and I came up for a visit a month later.”
Colella immediately liked what he saw from the Erie branch campus, enrolling in the school and becoming a member of the basketball team.
“What got me there was seeing a family-like atmosphere,” he said. “It is a great, up-and-coming campus.”
An academic all-conference selection, Colella excelled on and off the court. He played 22 games as a freshman for Behrend, scoring 6.7 points per game. He followed that up by appearing in 16 games off the bench his sophomore season, coming in at 9.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game.
“As soon as I got to college, I played strictly basketball. It was different focusing on one sport instead of three,” Colella said. “I worked on my shooting and ball handling. In high school, I was in the two- or three-guard spot just shooting. I wanted to work on my handle as well because I knew I’d be playing a one- or two-guard in college.”