NEW CASTLE —
Nick Colella is the Jeremy Lin of Division I college basketball.
OK, so Colella wasn’t sleeping on his brother’s couch when he tried out for the Penn State University basketball team prior to the 2010-11 season.
But his story is no less remarkable than Lin’s, the New York Knicks guard who has gone from obscurity to starter.
A New Castle High School product who had no Division I or II college offers for basketball, Colella played at Penn State Behrend in Erie for two seasons, transfered to Penn State’s main campus, made the Nittany Lions roster as a walk-on, redshirted a year, then figured to be an end-of-the-bench player this season — only to wind up a starter.
It’s the stuff Hollywood loves. Wonder who’ll play Colella in the movie?
“I do have to pinch myself sometimes,” Colella said. “I used to visualize playing in (Division I college) games and now it is happening.”
A 6-foot-3 junior guard, he has started the past five games for Penn State (12-17, 4-12 Big Ten Conference) after being one of the first players off the bench the four previous contests. His best efforts so far have been an 11-point performance as a reserve in a 73-54 loss at Indiana and a 10-point game in a 77-64 loss at Iowa. Colella, who has played in 23 games, also had three assists, three rebounds and two steals in the Iowa game.
He is averaging 3.1 points per game and has connected on 17 of 66 3-point attempts (25.8 percent).
The Nittany Lions have regular-season games remaining at Purdue tomorrow and home against Michigan on Sunday before the Big Ten Conference tournament.
After a less than spectacular career at Division III Penn State Behrend — he averaged 4 points a game as a freshman and 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a game as a sophomore — Colella decided to try to make the Nittany Lions roster as a walk-on. But first he made the women’s team at Penn State.
Actually, he made the men’s team that practices against the Penn State women’s squad.
“I knew a manager for the (women’s) team and found out there was a group of guys who played against them,” Colella said. “So, I played against (the women’s team) from when school started until they started (officially) practicing in October. And then I made the practice squad for the women’s team the day before I tried out for the men’s team. So, I was on their practice team for only one day.”
That was before the start of the 2010-11 season. That summer, Colella, who was a three-sport standout (he also played football and baseball) at New Castle and averaged 13.1 points per game as a senior, worked his tail off lifting weights and improving his game. He had decided he was going to take a shot at his dream and wanted to be the best player he could be.
When he wasn’t working, he was working out or playing basketball in summer league or pickup games.
The fact Colella busted his backside to improve his game came as no surprise to former New Castle and Union coach Mark Stanley. He was Colella’s coach his senior year at New Castle and still raves about his former player.
“He was always in the gym shooting,” Stanley said. “Nick always had a lot of ability. He was good in all three sports in high school … a real good athlete. This just shows what he could accomplish when he put all his eggs in one basket.
“But as good of a player as he is, Nick is an even better person. That’s why I’m happy he’s having this kind of success.”
What attracted Penn State coach Patrick Chambers to Colella was his shooting ability, along with his hustle and desire. When a person is going after a dream, they tend to work harder than those around them to make it happen.
Former Penn State coach Ed DeChellis noticed that last season when he made Colella one of two walk-ons he added to the Nittany Lions roster. Chambers realized it when he made Colella a starter early in February.
Colella admits that redshirting last season was one of the best things that could have happened to him. Practicing every day allowed him to adjust to the speed of the game at the Division I level.
“I was a real streak shooter in high school and now I’m just more consistent with my shot because I had that year to work on things and get better,” he said. “It was a good experience for me. Coming from the level I was used to was a big adjustment.”
He earned a starting spot because he does the little things — takes a charge, dives on the court for a loose ball, makes the pass to the guy who makes the pass to the guy who makes an easy layup — that coaches love and because he can hit from 3-point range.
He was 3 of 7 from outside the arc against Michigan State and 3 of 5 from 3-point land against Indiana. He also was 2 of 11 from long range in a victory against Nebraska. Colella has the green light to take a 3-point attempt at any time.
“Coach told me one game, ‘If you pass up on another 3-point chance, I’m taking you out.’ That’s good to know. He does a great job of keeping everything positive,” Colella said.
A physical education major, Colella said he would not be living his dream without the support of his family.
“My parents and my brothers were always telling me I could do it,” he said.
“It’s still all sort of hard to believe.”
NEW CASTLE —
Nick Colella is the Jeremy Lin of Division I college basketball.
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