With a 58-56 victory over the College of Charleston on Saturday, the James Madison Dukes (7-13, 2-4) earned just their second Colonial Athletic Association conference win of the season. The victory was also the first since the Dukes returned sophomore swingman Andre Nation, who many expected to make an enormous leap this winter following the graduation of head coach Matt Brady’s four starting seniors from a year ago.
Mid-Major Madness sat down with Nation following JMU’s morning practice before the Dukes’ battle at Northeastern on Wednesday night. Nation talked about the lessons he learned during James Madison’s run to the NCAA Tournament and his new role in Brady’s offensive system this season.
MMM: Last season you played more of a sixth-man role behind Devon Moore, Rayshawn Goins, A.J. Davis and Alioune Diouf. What did you learn from those four seniors?
Andre Nation: Oh man, they taught me a lot—just to be patient. They taught me about the game a little bit, the dos and the don’ts, you know what I’m saying? I learned a lot from them. I learned how to be a little more mature and things like that as I got older and into this season, so they taught me a lot of things.
MMM: What’s one of those don’ts that they told you to avoid?
AN: Aw man [laughs]. Don’t skip class, don’t slip up. Just the little things. Don’t try to get into it with the coaches, just buy in. Always buy in to coach and what’s going on because at the end of the day that’s all that matters, if everyone buys in. You can’t be that one dude that doesn’t buy in. It messes everything up.
MMM: I know Ray and A.J. are overseas, are you still in contact with all of those guys?
AN: I talk to A.J. almost every day. A.J.’s like a real big brother and I talk to Ray and Devon probably once a week or once every other week. But, me and A.J. were the closest out of everybody, so I always try to talk to him.
MMM: Are you still asking for advice or it’s just playing catch-up?
AN: Both. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the same predicaments he was in. He was like my mentor last year after he game back from what he was going through, so it’s about both. We talk about life and all that.
MMM: You were suspended for the first 15 games of the season. A lot of times when players transfer or red-shirt they say they learn a lot just from watching from the sidelines. What’s the most important thing you learned sitting out the first half of the year?
AN: I think spacing on the court, spacing on the court and actually trusting each other. It was going to be me, Ron [Curry], [Charles] Cooke, [Andrey] Semenov and Taylor [Bessick], and then they had to add everybody else in, all the freshman had to play a bigger role, so you had to learn to trust. That’s why last game [JMU’s win vs. Charleston], Ron passed up a couple shots and we got Jackson [Kent] a few shots and he had a great game. So, I just learned how to trust everybody and not just the people that were supposed to be the main factors on the team.
MMM: Yea, Jackson won CAA Rookie of the Week last week. What does he add to this team if he can continue to play at that level?
AN: It’s great. It’s great to have somebody else that can make plays, now that we have Cooke back, too, that’s another playmaker so hopefully it gets us rolling so we can get on and get a better seed into the [conference] tournament.
MMM: Before you made your debut against College of Charleston back on January 7, coach Brady said your biggest asset to this team is your passing ability and your ability to create for your teammates. Last year you weren’t in that position, what’s it like for you to now be in more of a playmaking type of role?
AN: It’s fun to be able to create for everybody else, get them shots and get myself shots, too. It’s real fun. It’s challenging, you know? Sometimes a little bit. But for the most part it’s real fun.
MMM: You’re win against Charleston on Saturday was the team’s first with you back. What did that mean to you and this team overall?
AN: Man, it was big for me, I felt like I won the lotto [laughs]. It was big, but you know after that win we have to move forward. We were supposed to win two of those games that we lost—we beat ourselves. It was just good to see us grind it out and fight it out.
MMM: Tonight you’ve got David Walker and a bunch of other long guards, what’s the matchup going to be like?
AN: Aw man, it’s going to be fun. I love playing against that dude for some reason. I was talking to trash to him last game, only jokes and stuff. I respect his game, I love playing against him, you know another dude that was on the [2013 All-CAA] Rookie Team with me. It’s fun. Him and [Demetrius] Pollard, it’s fun playing against them dudes.
MMM: What’s some of the trash you were saying?
AN: [Smiles]. I can’t say, man. I wish I could, but I can’t.