Men's basketball scores honors off the court

By The Beacon | April 10, 2014 2:57am
Thomas van der Mars


By Maggie Hannon |

Last week, an essay by an athlete at the University of North Carolina was leaked and a scandal about the academic fraud of student athletes emerged. It was a different story at UP on March 31, however, when two men’s basketball players were recognized for their successes off the court.

Senior forward Ryan Nicholas and junior center Thomas van der Mars were added to the 12th Annual Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Men's Basketball Team. Nicholas was also named the Post-graduate Scholarship winner and will receive $5,000 for post-graduate studies. The scholar-athlete team is made up of 10 athletes, and UP was the only school to have two players from the same program make the team.

Nicholas is graduating in May with a degree in psychology while Van der Mars is majoring in operations and technology management. Both Nicholas and van der Mars have gotten academic honors more than once with Nicholas being a three-time WCC All-Academic Team member and van der Mars twice. Van der Mars was also awarded the Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-America honors this season.

Both men found success in their academics in different ways. Van der Mars found that he is successful in his academics through working ahead and keeping a clear eye on his schedule. Nicholas found success both on and off the court through channeling his competitive nature.

“I just think in terms of life in general, I just like to compete any way I can,” Nicholas said. “I think it’s easy to find ways to compete on the basketball court. I also look to the classroom as another arena I can compete.”

The men’s basketball coaching staff, led by head coach Eric Reveno, tries to create a culture that fosters athletic and academic achievement. Reveno spoke highly of his players’ achievements in their education.

“They’re taking advantage of the great UP education and they’re getting the most out of it. To be recognized for their achievement in the classroom is one of the cornerstones of our program,” Reveno said.

Van der Mars and Nicholas both plan to continue their careers in basketball after graduation by playing in Europe. Nicholas will find out in July where he will be located, but he hopes to play in either Spain or Italy. Although unsure of what he would like to do after playing abroad, van der Mars enjoys the many possibilities of his degree and sees himself pursuing a career in either data analytics or helping businesses in their more technical aspects.

Once he is done with his career abroad, Nicholas is interested in coaching. He found that his degree in psychology would work well for jobs in this area and help him better interact with his players. He also recognized the use of psychology as a tactic to get an upper hand on the stiff competition in collegiate basketball.

“In basketball, the higher level you play at the more the game moves from your body to your mind,” Nicholas said. “At this level, for example, most guys are pretty similar in terms of the physical attributes so at that point when everyone is on the level playing field physically, you have to figure out other ways to get ahead of the competition. I think one major way is through the mind.”

The team gets academic support through the work of Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Services, Dan McGinty, and the Student Development Coordinator Alison Knoedler. Their teachers, though, are another area in which Van Der Mars and Nicholas both found encouragement. They each established strong relationships with their professors, which helped them to succeed academically.

“I’ve built some really good relationships with teachers while I’ve been here,” Van Der Mars said. “I really enjoy that part about the relationship that I can come in and literally talk about any aspect of my life with these teachers and they will generally care and try to help me through it. That’s so unique for UP and their best asset just that environment.”

Reveno, who studied economics at Stanford University, was also a student athlete and easily relates to his players’ academic struggles. He believed that the classes that he put the most effort into were the ones that he most enjoyed. Although he is not actively involved in the academics of his athletes, Reveno encourages that they find the classes that piques their interest.

“Everyone knows a classmate that could be doing better, but my goal is that (the athletes) find something that they get excited about, a subject or class, and they excel in those classes,” Reveno said. “I think Ryan and Thomas have found things that they really enjoy. That’s my advice to any student in college. Try to find something you enjoy and engage yourself in it and I think they were fortunate enough to do that.”