King finally finds home with No. 24 Middle Tennessee
By STEVE MEGARGEE
Middle Tennessee has become a destination for transfers during its emergence as a mid-major power.
The latest player to flourish at Middle Tennessee is Nick King, a former Memphis and Alabama forward who leads the 24th-ranked Blue Raiders in scoring and rebounding.
"I have confidence in myself," King said. "I already knew what I could do. I already knew my game. I just feel like I had to be put in the right system."
The former top-50 national recruit has found it at Middle Tennessee.
After primarily coming off the bench at Memphis and dealing with a lung infection at Alabama, King has led the Blue Raiders (22-5, 14-1 Conference USA) to their first Top 25 ranking in school history heading into Saturday's home game with UAB (17-11, 8-7).
The 6-foot-7 senior is hardly the first transfer to find success at Middle Tennessee, which has won an NCAA Tournament game each of the last two seasons. Junior-college and Division I transfers have provided just over half of Middle Tennessee's points during Kermit Davis' 16-year coaching tenure, including 63.9 percent this season.
Arkansas graduate transfer JaCorey Williams was named Conference USA 2016-17 player of the year in his lone season with Middle Tennessee. King could match that accomplish this season, as he ranks third in the conference in scoring (21.4) and fifth in rebounding (8.4).
King said he contacted Williams on social media before picking a school last year and got rave reviews about Middle Tennessee. That simply reinforced the direction in which King already was leaning.
"To be honest with you, even if he'd said something bad, I already kind of had my mind made up," King said.
King knew about Middle Tennessee because the Blue Raiders had been recruiting him ever since he was in high school, though he instead stayed home to play at Memphis. Middle Tennessee pursued him again when he left Memphis.
"The first two times, I really didn't consider them at all," King said. "I didn't give them the time of day."
King said the first two times he picked a school, he thought he knew where he wanted to play from the start and therefore didn't do enough research into other programs. Rated as the nation's No. 42 prospect in his high school class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports , King initially figured he would stay in college for only a couple of years before turning pro.
It didn't work out that way.
He averaged 14.6 minutes per game in two seasons at Memphis before transferring to Alabama. Health issues prevented him from ever making an impact at Alabama.
King found himself coughing often, and the coughing sometimes led to vomiting. He was diagnosed with MRSA, a type of bacteria that causes infections. The lung infection caused him to play just seven games for Alabama.
With only one year left of eligibility, King wanted to find a place where he could showcase his talent. He noticed Middle Tennessee's NCAA Tournament wins over Michigan State and Minnesota the last two years.
This time, he was more willing to listen to the sales pitch from Blue Raiders coach Win Case, the guy who had been recruiting him since high school. King looked at Middle Tennessee and believed he'd finally found the right fit.
"Throughout my whole college career, I've had problems trusting people, trusting situations," King said. "I felt this situation was a great possibility for me, and I just took advantage of it."
King's decision has paid off. He's on pace for the highest single-season scoring average by any Middle Tennessee player since Milton Dean had 22.1 points per game in 1993-94.
"He'll go down as one of the best scorers in the history of our school," Case said.
King also is having fun again after all the adversity he encountered at his previous two schools.
"A lot of times in the past when he had bad games, right off the plane he would go straight to the gym, and that can mentally wear on you, whether it was free throws he was missing or whatever," said King's mother, Lolita King. "He's gotten back to enjoying the game."
Perhaps it's only fitting that King's crowning achievement has come on Middle Tennessee's Murfreesboro campus.
He won a state title with Memphis East High School at the Murphy Center, Middle Tennessee's home floor. King notes that the Murphy Center is also where he received his Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball Award.
"Just having the year that I'm having - my last year - in the Murphy Center, it's crazy," King said.
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Updated February 23, 2018