PORTSMOUTH — When one plays alongside a McDonald’s All-American, two consensus NCAA Division I All-Americans and five NCAA Division I signees at Northland High School — along with one of the best senior classes in men’s basketball history at Shawnee State — one could definitely say that Ian Nixson has had to compete for his spot.
Throughout his career, the Columbus native has played alongside the best of the best that the game of basketball has had to offer.
He’s always come out on the other side — due in large part to the competitiveness and mindset that he has always displayed.
That’s a big reason why Nixson, a 6-2 guard, was able to parlay opportunities overseas to play the sport at a professional level.
Over the course of his career, Nixson played his basketball in Australia, Canada and Spain as he was able to make a living playing the game that he loved.
It’s a dream that wouldn’t have been possible without his own determination, but it’s also a dream that wouldn’t have been possible without those close to him at Shawnee State.
“The opportunity to play basketball at Shawnee State has meant the world to me,” Nixson said. “SSU panned out to be one of the best decisions both on and off of the court. Most of my teammates became my brothers. We still communicate daily in our group chat. (Jeff) Hamilton and the coaching staff gave me an opportunity to be myself, but also helped me mature as a leader and develop more effective leadership skills. Continuing on to play overseas was a dream come true, from traveling the world to immersing myself into the culture to the people that I met and obviously, being able to play the game of basketball. I’ll be 30 next month, and both experiences combined has made my 20s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
After getting into the game of basketball in his later adolescent years, playing basketball in college, and beyond, was a goal of Nixson’s.
He started emulating some of the game’s greatest up-and-coming guards of the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as scoring lead guards in Allen Iverson and Jay Williams, and — like most kids of the last generation — Kobe Bryant.
“Columbus basketball was super competitive, and I loved to compete,” Nixson said. “I started playing basketball regularly at the age of 10 or 11 because I moved, and that’s all they did at the school that I moved to. Shortly thereafter, I started watching a lot of college and NBA ball, especially Jay Williams’, Allen Iverson’s and Kobe Bryant’s games. From there, I fell in love with not just the game, but the process. I was a gym rat.”
That work showed when Nixson got to Northland High School.
As a junior and senior playing for one of the best high school basketball programs in the entire country at the time, Nixson helped the Vikings accumulate an outstanding 45-2 record over his final two seasons of high school play.
On a unit that was still relatively young, but stacked with talent such as future Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger, Michigan star Trey Burke, and J.D. Weatherspoon among others, Nixson became a co-captain alongside fellow teammate and James Madison signee Devon Moore his senior season.
The duo ultimately helped lead Northland to a strong 14-2 record in games that were decided by single digits.
While Northland ultimately fell in the Division I regional semifinals and the Division I district semifinals over Nixson’s last two seasons, his and Moore’s leadership ultimately helped set the table for Northland’s 27-1 season in 2008-09, a Division I state championship, and national acclaim in the following year when both players began their freshman seasons of college.
Nixson himself was named as a Columbus City League Honorable Mention selection for his performance as a senior.
“Playing for one of the best high schools in the state/country was amazing looking back at it, but at the time, it was my normal,” Nixson said. “Every practice was physical, competitive, loud etc. We made each other better everyday. Sully (Jared Sullinger) started coming in and playing with us in middle school, and he was elite then, so we knew what was coming. J.D. was unbelievably athletic. Trey was young, but the talent was there. We also had a guy named Devon Moore, who was my backcourt running mate, team co-captain, and many more. Helping lead that team was easy, simply because we all had the same goals. Win state, play college ball, play professionally.”
It certainly helped that the team was coached by one of the most highly-regarded leaders in all of high school basketball.
A man who had made a name for himself after recovering from a tough start to adulthood, Satch Sullinger was a disciplinarian of the highest order — even sitting Jared in Northland’s Division I district finals loss for failing to submit a Spanish assignment.
“It was an experience,” Nixson said. “It was very tough as a 14-17 year old kid. He challenged you in every aspect. Now, being 12-plus years removed from the situation, I get it. It was bigger than basketball. He was a big disciplinarian and very big on accountability. Everything he preached helped transition us to being better ball players and people if we listened. I find myself repeating a lot of his quotes to youth I mentor or train or work with.”
Following high school, Nixson certainly had a great deal of options for himself.
In fact, the Columbus native had the opportunity to go to Fork Union Military Academy to do a prep school year, an honor considering that the program has produced players such as Melvin Turpin, Shammond Williams and Khyri Thomas in the past.
However, upon making the trip to Shawnee State and seeing the campus, Nixon knew that the atmosphere of SSU was too strong to turn down.
“I actually came down with my old high school teammate, Tim Russell. “He was looking to go to Shawnee State. At the time, I thought that I was headed to Fork Union for prep school. Coming to visit was a chance for me to get out of school and hoop, so I came. We played open gym with the team, and I played pretty good that day. The players were cool. I actually played middle school basketball with Keelyn Franklin. The program also had a couple of Columbus kids, such as Justin Patrick and Sean Elliott, during my time there. I liked (Jeff) Hamilton a lot. He was young and very authentic. I knew exactly what I was getting and what he thought. I don’t think you can ask for much more than that as player.”
At Shawnee State, Nixson blossomed further.
Always a dependable figure at Northland in all facets, he formulated that same reputation at SSU, not only starting from the opening game of his college career but being the only player on the roster to play and start in all 29 games during the 2008-09 season — all while finishing third on the unit in scoring as a freshman and leading SSU in assists.
For his college career, Nixson went on to play and start in 109 contests over his four-year career with Shawnee State.
He finished inside the top-four in scoring in each of his four seasons with SSU, and led the team in assists in all four years of his college career.
To this day, the senior still sits third in career assists (321), third in career minutes, fourth in career games played (109), fifth in single-season steals (1.9), sixth in minutes average (32), seventh in single-season assists average (3.9), ninth all-time in single-season assists (116), and ninth in career steals (119).
Additionally, Nixson — not shy about filling up the box score in every facet — sits 15th in three-point field goals made (123), 16th in field goals made (373), and is 16th all-time in SSU history on the career scoring list with 1,063 points.
He is one of only 19 players in school history to ever reach the 1,000-point plateau.
“Being able to start every game of my career and accomplish things like scoring 1,000 points and being ranked on the all-time assist and minutes list is great, but numbers really mean nothing to me,” Nixson said. “My goal was to change the culture. Although we didn’t reach our goal of making the tourney, I thought that (Tyler) Boyles, (Tyler) Morgan, (Jeremy) Bennington, (Mark) Bryant, and myself. We pushed for change, and the rest of the team followed suit. It was a special group. We just had unfortunate injuries at the end of the season that hurt us big time.”
Despite not qualifying for a national tournament bid, Nixson’s hard work was certainly rewarded.
In the classroom, the senior graduated with a 3.0 GPA at SSU and received his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
On the basketball court, it got even better when the Woodville Warriors signed Nixson to a professional contract in Australia.
That opportunity ultimately parlayed itself into a stint with the Brampton A’s, a NBL squad in Canada, as well as two professional club units in Spain — including Basket Navarra Club and Club Genesis.
While different cultures certainly greeted Nixson along the way, each stop was just as rewarding as Nixson believed it would be.
“It was surreal. I got super emotional because I know all of the hard work and the effort that I put in,” Nixson said upon signing with the Warriors. “They said that hard work pays off, and I felt like I was the prime example. Each place is different. However, it is what I thought it would be. It’s a grind, but also really rewarding, especially if you are willing to embrace your situation and the culture. You have to be open to new things.”
As a point guard, the guy handling the ball has to control the pace of the game, and has to be the leader for his team.
Nixson, however, proved time and again that he not only had control of the teams that he helped get into offensive and defensive sets, but also of his own destiny — which resulted in his dreams coming to fruition.
“The accumulation of it all prepared me for success in this moment,” he said. “Everything that I was taught, from prioritizing to controlling my attitude and effort, holding myself accountable, hard work, dedication — you name it — they prepared me for it. Adding that with the people who I’ve been fortunate enough to call my teammates and family, I can’t fail.”