HUNTINGTON – The last time Nigel Spikes played a college basketball game in which he was what he called “100 percent healthy,” he had 19 rebounds in 31 minutes in a CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) loss to Ohio University, March of 2011.
As Marshall finished its summer practices with the Gullickson Hall gym workout Tuesday afternoon, Spikes said he didn’t want to be that redshirt sophomore player again in 2012-13, his senior season.
“I think about that game a lot, but to be honest, I don’t really want to get back to that level,” the 6-foot-10 Spikes said. “I want to be better than that, above that level I was a couple of years ago.
“I’m doing the things to get my body right, and my knee is healthy.”
That would be his left knee.
Spikes underwent patella tendon surgery last September, and missed the first six games of last season before returning to average 16.7 minutes, 4.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Spikes and MU Coach Tom Herrion both put the season-long estimate of the Herd center’s health at 60 percent.
With Marshall expected to challenge for a Conference USA title in 2012-13, Herrion has a front court filled with ability and versatility in Spikes, Dennis Tinnon, Robert Goff, Elijah Pittman, Jamir Hanner and Yous Mbao.
The competition for minutes will be intriguing to watch.
“I think one of the strengths of this team is the depth along the baseline,” Herrion said.
“For us, it’s a good problem to have because we can move guys around, and we can go big if we want, with a Tinnon or Hanner at small forward.
“Nigel is a big part of being able to do that.
“I’ve said all along that we’ve had a lot of guys who have had good off seasons, but a healthy Nigel Spikes changes the dynamics of our team.”
Before Spikes returned to Huntington for summer workouts, he spent a lot of time running on the beach in his native Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to strengthen his knee.
He worked out religiously to improve his upper body strength, too.
He also did what he labeled “a lot of mental training, watching a lot of game films, seeing the little things, just trying to get ready.
“I worked with a lot of people. Sometimes they’d stop me on the beach when I was running and give me something I could use.
“I worked out with a lot of people, and I tried to take good things from everyone, things that would connect with my game.”
Spikes thought back to 2008-09, when he came to Marshall as a non-qualifier recruited by then-Coach Donnie Jones, and how the personnel has changed and the front court has flourished in more recent years.
“It’s a big difference from then, a real big difference,” said Spikes, a marketing major.
“Every year we’ve gotten better in talent, gotten better in things we do. Our front court is going to be really good. Our back court, too.
“We’re just going to have a real good team, and maybe we can put all of the pieces together and try to win something.”
Herrion said Spikes needs only 22 hours to graduate, and he sees a very different player from the person and player Herrion met when he became the Herd coach in April 2010.
“When I think back to when I first got the job, Nigel was such a shy, quiet young man, he barely kept his head up to make eye contact when he spoke,” Herrion said.
“It wasn’t out of disrespect; it was just his personality.
“Now, the growth of his personality, his maturation has been really neat to watch over the last two and one-half years.
“Now, he has a chance to have a terrific senior season, and more importantly, he’s on target to graduate in the spring.”
Herrion said he again sees the player he watched go to the glass with ferocity in that 2010-11 season-ending loss to the Bobcats.
“Nigel is obviously much closer to 100 percent than he ever was last year,” the Herd coach said. “That is the most important thing.
“He’s done a great job with his body, he worked diligently on his rehab, so a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, as they say … but for Nigel in particular.
“He struggled so much fighting the injury last year that he never got into any rhythm or at a good confidence level.”
Spikes reached double figures in rebounding only twice last season, when the emergence of junior college transfer Dennis Tinnon on the glass as a hallmark of Marshall’s first NIT entrant in 24 seasons.
Spikes promises he will be more in the scrum in the paint this season, but last season wasn’t a total loss.
“I did become comfortable with some different post moves I had to learn,” he said. “I wasn’t so explosive because of my knee, so I relied on some hook shots a bit and I’ve become a lot more comfortable with that.
“But my game is going to the glass, and I’m ready to do that again.”
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The Herd’s last hoops workout until mid-October came on the same day Marshall announced its 16-game Conference USA schedule for 2012-13.
Herrion said the Herd will have a tough start, with the first five games including a home conference opener with Danny Manning-coached Tulsa, a long trip to UTEP, a Henderson Center game with Herd rival East Carolina, then away games at Southern Mississippi and Memphis.
“Those three road games are three of the best teams in the league. I guess I’m still hacking off people in the conference office,” Herrion joked.
Herrion said he expects UTEP to be the best of what in football are the Western Division teams in C-USA.
However, the Jan. 12 trip to El Paso “is more manageable,” he said, because the Herd gets one of its two “open” slots in the Wednesday-Saturday league scheduling format right after the game with the Miners.
Herrion also said he also has spoken with Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick “briefly” about the possibility of turning a pair of the road-game combinations into two-game trips, rather than returning to Huntington on a Thursday and flying out again for another destination on a Friday.
Those games are Jan. 23 and 26 (at Southern Miss and Memphis) and Feb. 6 and 9 (at Tulane and UAB).
The trip from Hattiesburg to Memphis would be a 300-mile bus ride, on I-65 to Jackson, then U.S. 49 into the home of USM. while the mileage from New Orleans to Birmingham is a nearly equal 345-miles, on I-59.
“We’ll probably, hopefully stay out,” Herrion said, “rather than exert all of that energy going back and forth.
“The flip side of that is making sure the guys handle their academics because of the time we’re gone.”
Six non-conference games have been reported to date – at home against Morehead State and UNC Wilmington, at Akron and Ohio, and Charleston Civic Center dates against Cincinnati and West Virginia.