Dec. 15, 2010
By Trey Formas
Senior guard Zamal Nixon enters his senior season after a season capped off with a Conference USA Championship where he averaged 5.9 points, dished out 56 assists, and made 15 crucial three-pointers.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native, has averaged 5.8 points, 1.5 assists, and a 31 percent 3-point percentage in his three seasons as a Cougar. Nixon plans to graduate this summer with a degree in sociology.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Zamal, and ask him some questions.
You are heading into your senior season. What are your expectations?
"Heading into this season I just want to keep working hard and just try to better myself. I want to have the best year I can possibly have."
You and the Cougars won four-straight games to win the Conference USA Championship. These four wins came after an up-and-down season. How did that make you feel to win the championship in this fashion?
"It definitely felt good. If you can recall going into the year we never put a winning streak together. We would win two here, lose one, win three, lose one. The four-game winning streak we had at the end of the year was the longest winning streak of the season. So it was great to peak at the right time and play our best basketball at the end."
With winning the title came a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars traveled to Spokane, Wa. What was that experience like?
"It was a great experience. From the stand point where we got off the bus after winning the conference championship and there was a bunch of fans there, cheerleaders there, just embracing us for what we did. It was definitely a great feeling to make so many proud fans happy and that is a feeling I would like to have again."
You have a new coach in James Dickey. What is it like playing for him?
What is your role on the team?
"It has been a great experience playing with him. It has been a big change, but change is constant and that is going to happen. You just have to deal with things accordingly. I have definitely learned a lot from him in the time he has been here. I am grateful to have him as a coach. I am just thankful to keep working with him."
"This year I am going to have to assume more of a leadership position. I need to be more of a vocal leader for the guys, just being an extension of him - Coach Dickey - on the court."
What is it like having that leadership position?
"It is something I am thankful for, (Coach Dickey) wanting me to be those things means he sees something in me. That's definitely a great feeling, and I just have to keep working every day and just try to get better."
You are from Brooklyn, N.Y. What was it like growing up in the city that never sleeps?
"It was great. There is no place like it. That is definitely where I get all of my skills basketball wise. In New York basketball is a big deal. You always hear about guys playing on the playgrounds late at night. That is the kind of thing we did. It was great growing up in New York, and that is where I need to credit my basketball ability today."
What has been the biggest change from living in New York to living in Houston?
"Definitely the change of pace. New York is fast paced, like it never sleeps, where out here it is a lot slower. Everything isn't so close and convenient. Here you have to get in a car to get anywhere."
What brought you to the University of Houston?
"At the time, Coach (Tom) Penders style of play was something that intrigued me and on top of that, Houston being a great city and having a bunch of things to do. That was a big part of my recruiting process. I didn't want to go to a city with not much going on and be homesick. Outside of basketball, Houston is a great city. That is what drew me in."
Houston has a storied history, with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and others. What is it like playing for a team that has such a history?
"That is a great feeling. When I was first deciding to come here and when I was telling everybody I was coming here, they would say that's where "Phi Slama Jama" played. It is great to be a part of that, playing for a program that has such a storied past because everywhere you go everybody knows how great the history is at the University of Houston."
What is it like playing in Hofheinz Pavilion?
"In all the four years I have been here I have played in front of sellout crowds, and I have played for smaller crowds. It is great either way. The fans always come out and show as much support as they can. They really get into the game, and that is something I have appreciated in my four years here."
"It shows what Coach Dickey is about and what he is trying to do. It is going to be great preparation heading into conference because in conference every night you are going to be going against tough teams. It is going to be great preparation heading into conference because TCU and LSU are two solid teams with good crowds. It is going to be something to get us ready for our conference games in January."
When you play UCF you play against Michael Jordan's son, Marcus Jordan. Does that game have any more meaning?
"It is something that will always get mentioned. But as the game gets rolling and the ball gets thrown up in the air, everybody is just a regular basketball player."
Last season you came off the bench more towards the end of the season. This added a spark to the offense and added some excitement to the game. Where does the excitement in which you play basketball come from?
"What excited me about that - coming off the bench - it was something my team needed me to do. It was something my coaches sat down and told me about and my teammates about. It was a role that I embraced and a role the team needed from me. I just wanted to be the best that I could. Be that spark off the bench for us."
Who has made the biggest impact in your life?
"My daughter, Brooklyn. I have a daughter who is going to be two in January. Having her being brought into my life was a real blessing. She helped me appreciate life more and look at things a little differently. It pushes me a little bit more and is the biggest impact."
Has there ever been a coach that made a major impact in your life?
"I played for all different types of coaches in my life. My coach in high school was pretty special. A lot of people don't know that I played for a female coach in high school. (Ruth Lovelace) has done a lot of great things in New York. She is pretty much a legend in New York. She is one of the first women to ever coach a men's high school team to a championship. She really helped me as I was coming out of high school, teaching me things like how to work harder, how to handle people and making yourself presentable. If I had to say that there has been a coach that made an impact it would be her."
Do you a nickname on the team?
"Everybody calls me Z."
Do you have any pregame superstitions?
"I am a very superstitious guy. I don't have anything set right now but as the season goes on if certain things work for me, certain sneakers that work for me, I stick with that."
Off the top of your head, what are the three most played songs on your iPod?
"I listen to anything made by Drake. Anything that Drake puts out, you can count on it being on my iPod."
After you graduate what do you plan to do?
"I would love to see how far I can go with basketball. I'm on track to graduate in the summer time. I am getting my degree in sociology and I'll see how far I can go with basketball."