February 26, 2004
By Aaron Juarez
The Santa Clara
© 2004 The Santa Clara
Rule 10-21, Article 1 of the Official NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Rules describes charging as: "A dribbler shall neither charge into nor contact an opponent in the dribbler's path..."
Having established a legal guarding position, sophomore forward Travis Niesen (averaging 9.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game) sees the San Francisco defender driving straight for him. If Niesen keeps his feet planted and holds his position, he will draw the charge, earning the Broncos possession of the ball. The opposing player lowers his shoulder into Niesen, knocking him to the floor with a loud thud as the shrill sound of a whistle halts play. The official's right hand is behind his head and he then points toward the Broncos' end of the court. The crowd erupts. Niesen has drawn the charge. As his adrenaline shoots him to his feet, Niesen's intensity boils over and he yells to his team and the crowd, energizing the Leavey Center.
If taking the charge hurt at all, he does a good job of hiding it.
"I hate it, and that's why I get so pumped up," laughs Niesen, when asked if he enjoys taking charges. "Because, you know, no one wants to do that. But when you're out there playing, that's the way the basketball game is supposed to be played. Every guy on our team has to be willing to take charges."
"Taking charges isn't so much physical as it is mental," junior guard Doron Perkins said. "When we see Travis (Niesen) take a charge, it gets us pumped up and makes us want to do the same. It shows us that anyone can do it."
Off of the court, Niesen's intensity and drive to be the best at whatever he does takes a more subtle and laid-back form. Whether it is school, golf or surfing, he is still just as determined as ever to succeed.
"He's naturally aggressive. It doesn't matter what he competes in," said Head Coach Dick Davey, about Niesen's intensity. "He's learning how to play golf, he tries to compete there. If you want to play checkers, he's gonna try to beat you, that's just his nature."
While talking with him, Niesen leans back against the glass window in Benson's Market Square with his feet stretched out on the next chair, projecting an easygoing and calm demeanor. When talking with him about the Lakers or golf, Niesen may gesture somewhat emphatically with his hands to get his point across, but for the most part, he's relaxed even when making the occasional witty comment.
"We give him a hard time," said center Jim Howell, Niesen's partner in the paint before he suffered a season-ending injury to his foot in practice on Feb. 13. "I think he's a lot more outspoken with us on the team than he is with the general community."
"He's naturally aggressive. It doesn't matter what he competes in. He's learning how to play golf, he tries to compete there. If you want to play checkers, he's gonna try to beat you, that's just his nature."
Head Coach Dick Davey
"I'm pretty low-key, I don't really like going out that much," Niesen said. "I will go out from time to time, but I'm much more low-key and surfing is something where when you can be by yourself with other people and golfing is really good because you can get solitude."
"Believe it or not," he adds with a laugh, "it is possible to ease your mind playing golf."
During basketball season, Niesen doesn't get as much time to surf, but whenever the chance presents itself, he jumps at the chance to trek up to his secret spot in Santa Cruz to ride some waves.
"I think student-athletes need to have their own life too," said Davey, about Niesen's love for surfing. "You need a release once in awhile and that's a release for him. That's a healthy thing to have."
But basketball, despite the aches and pains it can inflict, still gets the adrenaline flowing for Niesen. His love for playing the game and the passion with which he does it does not go unnoticed by teammates, coaches or fans.
"For one thing, he's very consistent with his intensity," Howell said. "When you see someone playing as hard as he does, taking charges and playing physical, it energizes the team."
Though only a sophomore, Niesen has proved himself as a strong leader on the team. After seeing significant time in all but one of Santa Clara's 27 games as a freshman, Niesen has stepped right into an important role this season, starting every contest. At the Cable Car Classic in December, he was named the tournament's Most Inspirational Player after a 16-point, five-rebound effort in a title game loss to BYU. The poise with which Niesen carries himself both on and off the basketball court draws the praise of his teammates.
"Sometimes after a game, I'll look at him and realize he's really a sophomore," Perkins said. "It seems like he's been here all four years."
Davey is also quick to point out how Niesen's leadership qualities and intensity have helped him to gain so much of his teammates' respect.
"Having the respect of teammates is something that builds leadership qualities and develops leaders, and Niesen has that," Davey said. "I expect him to be a real focal point from a leadership standpoint. I would think that our teammates would want him to be one of our leaders. Even this year, because he has the respect of the team, it doesn't make any difference what year you are in school."
"We like to have our seniors be our leaders, but Travis is a leader for us right now and we'd like to see him take on more and more of that role each year," Davey continued.
As a crowd favorite, Niesen has also earned the respect of the fans. The loudest cheers of the Ruff Riders are often elicited by Niesen taking a charge or by his physical play underneath the hoop. It is not unusual for Niesen to receive compliments and praise from students on campus.
"It's really great to feel appreciated for something that you're giving your all for," Niesen said.
His physical play has also led to a few scraps with opposing players. Against Gonzaga, Niesen tangled with Bulldogs forward Cory Violette while grabbing a rebound, and as both players wrestled to the ground, Perkins was one of the first Broncos to immediately come flying in to support his teammate, drawing a technical foul in the process. It is that kind of respect that the Broncos have for each other and especially for Niesen. They know they all have each other's backs.
"He always wants me to back him up in a game," Perkins said. "That's what we do for each other, like against Gonzaga when (Cory) Violette grabbed him. I'd go to war with Travis any day."
While one may assume that Niesen's leadership is more attuned to the post players, the truth is that the whole team is affected by his intensity and passion.
"The scope of his leadership extends beyond just the post players," Howell said. "It is something you can't coach, he's going to do what it takes to win."
"Everyone respects and looks up to him, he's the future of Santa Clara basketball."
Having made a name for himself already as a sophomore and with two more seasons left, Travis Niesen has the potential to become one of the most popular Broncos in recent memory. With the intensity and desire he brings to the court every day, his teammates would run through a wall for him. Too bad he would beat them to it.