Dec. 9, 2004
It's hard to imagine Travis Niesen standing over a missed putt for par and not snapping the stick of betrayal over his thigh. However, the Broncos junior power forward does keep his composure in that frequent situation and says his golf game has helped him become a force on the 6-2 surprise of the Bay Area.
"There are two things golf will teach you," says Niesen. "First of all, life is not fair. Sometimes you hit good shots and are still penalized. That happens all the time. Number two is responsibility. There's no one to blame for missing a five-foot putt or for shanking a shot. You're the only one out there and there's no one else to blame. It's not about the wind, the lie or anything else. You have to take responsibility and that helps me a lot with basketball. I just wish my swing was better."
Niesen was put on the map with a 26-point game in the upset of #4 North Carolina that nearly moved him to tears. He upped the ante with 31 to take out Stanford, giving SCU South Bay bragging rights. While the pundits (myself included) focused on guard play going into the season, it's been Niesen who's given the team an inside presence with Sean Denison on the mend.
"I would say truthfully I'm a little surprised as well," answers Head Coach Dick Davey. "It's just a maturation process. It's nothing really special that he's done or we've done. His determination has been such a factor in his success. He's bent on doing a good job. He likes scoring and guys like him have a certain mentality. Steve Nash was a little bit of an exception in that regard. He didn't look to score much but was always going to try and score when you needed him to."
In Albuquerque, N.M. this season, Niesen's parents told me the story of a determined middle school boy who would not just sit idle in his room after picking up a bad case of chicken pox. Since he was stuck inside for a couple weeks, he devoted his time to becoming an accomplished guitar player. HIs father, Jeff, said Travis pursued it with a passion despite painful bumps on his fingers and hands. If someone were to tell him he's no Carlos Santana, Niesen would probably lock himself in his dorm until he perfected "Game of Love."
Niesen's scoring average has steadily increased from three points a game as a freshman, nine as a sophomore to 16 as an upperclassman. While Davey credits experience, Niesen also put in the time over the summer to make it happen.
"I really worked on going to the right and getting shots I'll take in games. Since I'm a junior and have played a lot, I know exactly what kinds of shots I'll get in a game and where I'm going to get them. You're not going to see me get the ball on the wing and face up a lot on a guy so I didn't work on that a lot over the summer. When I played, I worked on game shots, ones that I'll take when it really matters. Also, I worked on a lot of free throws and I'm happy with the way I'm shooting it right now."
While the success he's having on the floor makes Niesen's family proud, the support he receives every game means even more.
"It means everything to me," adds Niesen. "They don't worry about how many points you score or how many fouls you pick up in a two minute period. My dad doesn't pretend to know more about basketball than me. My parents don't spend a lot of time giving me tips; just support what I'm doing and love me no matter what."
His mother, Debbie, has been supportive but also concerned about her son's on-court temperament. The boss feels the same way.
"We've talked about that," says Davey. "I think he's doing a better job of avoiding foul situations. Sometimes, guys who are energized like he is, draw the ire of officials. That's a little bit of a concern. They may misinterpret what his energy is about: It's about trying to win. It's not about trying to intimidate, but to be successful for his team. You have to watch that you don't create a negative environment with an opponent. We've talked more in terms of controlling it because you don't want to take away that intensity. You like it but want it tempered a little bit."
Niesen responds: "I try to control it some but I kind of let it go right now. If we're up by 20, maybe I can let it go. But that's just the way I concentrate and get into the game. After the Stanford win, it was tough for me against San Jose State because I was emotionally drained. But one of their guys tried to get into my head and that got me going again. Getting into THEIR heads isn't really part of the plan. Sometimes those guys get so mad at me that they get taken out of their games. That's a great feeling."
The numbers aren't what drives him, only wins. While others peak ahead at Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, Travis is concerned with the present. At this time what concerns him is the fact that his girlfriend, Bonnie Bowman from the soccer team, is getting ready to cut 10 inches of her hair. He can't argue since she's giving up her locks for cancer patients.
Just like Niesen throwing his body around for a loose ball, there's a sacrifice for a greater good.