Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lester maximizes Hofstra experience

A year ago at this time, Charles Jenkins’ Dad spoke of how his son got everything he could out of the college experience and wrung his scholarship completely dry. Nathaniel Lester, Jenkins’ longtime best friend, didn’t have the type of career Jenkins enjoyed (of course, who did?) and probably won’t follow Jenkins into the NBA. But just like Jenkins, Lester will walk out of Hofstra knowing he maximized the collegiate experience.

Lester, who will be honored today along with Mike Moore and Dwan McMillan in Senior Day festivities prior to the Flying Dutchmen’s regular season finale against UNC Wilmington, earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2010, after just three-and-a-half years, and is a few credits shy of finishing his master’s in linguistics. Such a feat is particularly satisfying for Lester, who identified Hofstra’s academic reputation as one of the reasons he signed with the school back in the fall of 2006.

“Signing here was important to me for academics, especially for my family—they really wanted me to go to a school that took academics seriously,” Lester said this week. “The graduation rate here was really good. And I graduated in three-and-a-half years, so they kept their word with that.”

On the court, Lester bounced back from an up-and-down first three years, as well as the quad injury that cost him all of last season, to put together an all-CAA caliber type of season as a redshirt senior. Lester surged past the 1,000-point mark, has scored in double digits more this season (26 times) than he did in his first three seasons combined (22) and is one of just three players in the CAA who ranks in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding.

“Going out like that for my senior year, it feels like a relief—I felt like I could have done this since my freshman year if I had more of an opportunity,” Lester said. “This is something that any college player would want to do, especially their last year. To finally get a chance to do it—no better year to do it than your senior year.”

Lester wasn’t striking a bitter tone while discussing his opportunities and was, in fact, echoing what former coach Tom Pecora said last fall, when Pecora admitted it was tough to get Lester involved in the offense with potent scorers such as Jenkins and Antoine Agudio—the top two scorers in school history—sharing the court with Lester.

Lester was paired with another high-volume scorer this year in Mike Moore, who has more than 1,500 career points between Hofstra and Fordham, but the Lester who returned as a redshirt senior was better equipped to become the second part of a 1-2 punch.

The similar poses Lester struck in his first and last photo days at Hofstra symbolize his development: In the fall of 2007, a baby-faced Lester sported shoulder-length hair, stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 190 pounds as spun a basketball on his finger. He did the same thing this year, except with an extra inch of height and 15 pounds of muscle added to a far broader frame. Add in a closely cropped haircut and Lester now bears a striking resemblance to NBA superstar Dwight Howard.

Lester was recruited as a shooting guard but played the forward positions this year and presented matchup problems for opposing teams, most of whom lacked someone who could match his power at small forward or his athleticism and ability to run the floor as a power forward. In addition to ranking in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding, Lester is also in the top 15 in the CAA in steals.

“I have no problem with playing any role that they want me to play,” Lester said. “I can play defense or score the ball for you.”

Lester’s versatility, as well as the intangibles that made him a two-time captain at Hofstra, should give him plenty of opportunity to continue his career. While Lester is quiet, his work ethic and stoicism have served as anchors for a Flying Dutchmen team that has never quit despite going through the program’s worst season in 16 years.

“I guess I get [his personality] from my father—that’s what my mother tells me,” Lester said. “My father’s really quiet and laid-back. I think it plays a good role because the days that are not going good and you seem not to panic, people are looking up to you and see that you’re calm and that may calm them down [and help them] be more relaxed.”

Lester will be predictably low-key today when he walks on the court with his Mom and other members of his family, but he admitted this week he’s growing nostalgic as his eventful career winds to a close. He recalled his first pickup game in the summer of 2007 with a who’s who of “where are they now?” candidates

“I was playing against the older guys and I was nervous—I wanted to show them that I would be able to play with them,” Lester said. “Antoine Agudio, Ryan Johnson. Mike Davis-Sabb, Charles, Greg, ‘Pittsy’ [Arminas Urbutis], Ziggy [Sestakos]…”

Lester also played on a pair of 20-game winners, a pair of sub-.500 teams and watched as the Dutchmen went through three coaches in a five-week span in the spring of 2010. He smiled as he looked at his freshman year picture this week and pondered what the 2012 Lester would tell the 2007 Lester.

“I had no idea what to expect—as much as people tell you, you won’t know until you go through it,” Lester said. “You couldn’t prepare for it.

“A lot’s happened—we’ve had our ups and downs here, but for the most part I’ve had a great time, good experiences, great coaches,” Lester said. “So I’m pretty happy.”

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