BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Before Nick Pringle could shine on college basketball’s brightest stage, he had to make a stop in Dodge, Kansas City.
Dubbed the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” the midwestern city’s main strip features an Applebees’, an IHOP and a plethora of Mexican restaurants fused together in an outdated homage to the Old West. Dodge City doesn’t offer much in the way of social life, but it’s an ideal setting for establishing a blue-collar identity.
“It was a place in the middle of nowhere,” Pringle said. “There was nothing really to do there but grind. I kind of got that dog in me from there. I just learned how to be a better person there and it helped me in the long run.”
Playing in a 1,500-seat community college arena was not part of Pringle’s plans. The Seabrook, South Carolina native spent his first college season four hours from home at Wofford College. In 15 games with the Terriers, he averaged 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Pringle concedes that those numbers should have been better, stating that he “didn’t really lock in and buy a lot”. This lack of discipline extended into the classroom, where his struggles eventually forced him to put his name on the transfer portal.
His limited playing time, coupled with less than stellar academic grades, has restricted Pringle’s offerings primarily to junior college programs. He also opened the door for Jake Williams to make his move.
Williams, who was the head coach at Dodge City at the time, recruited Pringle out of high school while working at USC Salkehatchie. After originally losing out to Wofford, he wasted no time in catching up to the 6ft 7in striker.
Williams called Pringle and his AAU coach, explaining why he should commit to Dodge City while laying out a step-by-step plan that would take him back to Division I level.
“I told him, ‘I don’t care if you averaged two points and two rebounds at Wafford, if you do what you’re supposed to do academically you’ll have every Division I in the country wanting to recruit you. .'”
Pringle was heading to Dodge City with the pressure to prove himself in the classroom and on the court. That, along with his hunger to get back to the top level of college basketball, ignited the flame that fueled him the following year.
“He had an intensity and an edge about him in high school – he grew up,” Williams said. “I think when things didn’t work out at Wofford it really put a chip on his shoulder. He had an edge, a pop, a meanness about him. He had a really good engine at school and he played with a lot of energy that I thought it was infectious. I really think the energy really kicked off after Wofford. He had this drive, this weight on his shoulder and it really helped his energy.”
Pringle’s drive helped him record seven doubles, including a season-high 20 rebounds against Hutchinson Community College. Led by their dogged forward, Dodge City posted a 30-5 record, earning a birth in the NJCAA D1 National Championship tournament.
Pringle finished his stint at JUCO averaging 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He won KJCCC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the conference’s all-defensive team. His ground production led to him becoming the #1 JUCO player in the nation, which came with a series of Division I offers from Alabama to Georgia. Pringle signed with the Crimson Tide and brought his hunger with him to Tuscaloosa.
Alabama lineman Charles Bediako needed a single courtside meeting to figure that out.
“He’s very intense and very competitive,” said Bediako. “He’ll let you know about it for sure. I feel like he helps sharpen my mind.”
His intensity is what he knows in the locker room and throughout the season there were times when he boiled over with some of his teammates. Bediako and Noah Gurley said they both “engaged” with Pringle during practice because of his intensity and willingness to win at everything.
For Bediako, he’s happy that Pringle is in Alabama and only has to face him in practice.
“I was surprised he left JUCO,” said Bediako. “He’s a good player, a great player really. He could go anywhere to play but he chose to play with us and that shows how much he’s bought into this team. He’s not worried about his minutes and he’s ready for when his time comes.” the hour.”
It was a bit of a wait for Pringle before he got his chance to shine.
In the first three months of the season, Pringle appeared in 25 games and had 10 or more points in just three of those contests. He averaged just seven minutes a game, mostly relieving Bediako when he got into trouble or needed a break.
But against Georgia, Pringle had a chance to unleash that intensity on an opponent. That night, in front of more than 15,000 Crimson Tide fans, Pringle had the game of his career with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
When the forward started from the ground there was nothing the Bulldogs could do to stop him as it was an efficient 9-for-12 shot.
“In one-on-ones, he’s probably the hardest guy to tag as a big man,” said Noah Clowney. “
From then on, Pringle’s role grew as he became one of the first players to come off the bench and was usually called upon to kick-start the team with a thunderous dunk or taking a charge. With confidence building, it was only a matter of time before the striker had another explosive game.
Pringle’s opportunity came on Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
With Alabama in need of a spark to secure a first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Nate Oats turned to the former JUCO player who delivered. In 20 minutes, Pringle scored 19 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds in the win.
“I was really happy to see him play well in an NCAA tournament game because there were games where he didn’t play that much,” Oats said. “He was frustrated, like all really good players, not playing much, but he handled it well, he’s just getting better.
“Happy to see him play. Happy to be able to rest Charles a little bit. Hopefully we can build on that, gain confidence, so when we need him he will have a lot of confidence to play well for us.”
It was his shining moment on the grandest stage, but all Williams could see was the same talented kid he saw in South Carolina. Now, Pringle serves as an inspiration to every subcontracted basketball player who dreams of stepping into the national spotlight.
“It’s cool to see someone who had to figure it out and find a way to get to where they are because it means more that way,” Williams said. “Everyone’s story and path is different. The thing with Nick is that it wasn’t handed to him. He really had to earn it to get to where he is today. I’m really proud of him.”