COLUMBIA — For four years Nicole Wilson was a force for the Missouri volleyball team. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall, she used her height to dominate play at the net and become the Tigers’ all-time leader in hitting percentage and blocks per game. This year, Wilson will play for the Missouri women’s basketball team and coach Cindy Stein hopes the former middle blocker will be able to provide strong play in the post for a team that lost much of its height to graduation.
Wilson has no more volleyball eligibility left, but she is able to play basketball this season because the NCAA allows an athlete who is enrolled in school for a fifth year to have one more year of eligibility in a second sport.
Wilson began the school year with no plans to use that extra year, instead she was helping the athletic department any way she could.
That included serving food at Missouri athletic director Mike Alden’s suite at football games, and a chance encounter between her and Stein during a game led to Stein offering Wilson the chance to play center for the Tigers. It was an opportunity Wilson jumped at.
“I love competitive sports,” Wilson said. “It was a chance to step out, play for another team and just have fun with it.”
Wilson had a strong basketball career at Lincoln (Neb.) Christian High School. She was named to the all-state team three times, but she hasn’t played competitive basketball since. She played sparingly in pick-up games during her freshman and sophomore years and played even less the next two years when the volleyball team began to take off.
“I’m not going to risk playing a pick-up game with people that don’t know the game and might injure me, so I didn’t play much the last couple of years,” Wilson said.
The transition back to basketball from volleyball has been a difficult process for Wilson who is adjusting to everything from having to run up and down the court constantly to battling for position down low.
“The whole physical part of the game, the contact and people that are way bigger than me pushing me around and trying to hold that ground I think is going to be frustrating for me,” Wilson said.
While getting reacquainted with competitive basketball is hard after four years away from the game, Wilson is progressing well so far. Her teammates said they haven’t noticed any problems.
“Even though she has been out, Nicole looks like she’s played,” freshman forward Shakara Jones said. “She’s making huge strides every time we practice.”
The Tigers will need Wilson to keep making strides so she can help replace the production lost when much of the team’s front line graduated.
Forwards EeTisha Riddle (6-3) and Carlynn Savant (6-1) are gone and the Tigers will have to replace the 482 rebounds the pair combined to snag last season. Centers Tamika Jackson (6-3) and Kacey McFarland also were lost to graduation leaving Wilson as the tallest player on a team with only four other players taller than six feet.
“It (having Wilson) helps us, especially size-wise,” Stein said. “We’ll go up against 6-4, 6-5 kids, especially when we get into conference. Having that size and athleticism is really important.”
While the Tigers will likely need her presence inside when the Big 12 Conference schedule begins, Wilson may not play a big role on the team during the nonconference schedule.
“We don’t expect an abundance of things early, but we do expect her to be able to provide us some great help,” Stein said.
One area Wilson will be able to help in is leadership. She is the team’s only senior, and Stein expects her to set a good example for a young team that has four freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors on its roster.
“She has been on a nationally ranked team, she knows the discipline involved,” Stein said. “She can help teach a lot of our younger players what that’s all about as they gain experience. We’re looking for her in those type of leadership moments, but at the same time we feel that she’ll be able to play some quality minutes.”