Nothin’ but net for Nikita

November 13, 2008

If you find yourself looking for a way to calm the pregame jitters before the Hoyas’ first game on Monday, try counting the number of times sophomore Nikita Mescheriakov misses in warm-ups. If nothing else, it’s an effective distraction before the opening tip. It could even be fun, except for one little problem: he never does. The shooting clinics that the 6’7” forward puts on before games make up the most court-time that he has managed to get so far in his collegiate career, but every time he walks out onto the floor represents another step in what is one of this year’s team’s biggest success stories.
Mescheriakov first began to develop his soft touch at the age of eight, thousands of miles away in his native Belarus. While Belarus had the resources to foster his budding talent early on in his childhood, there came a point when Mescheriakov’s goals and abilities outgrew the means of his country of birth.
“There are a lot of groups where you can start to play basketball,” he said. “These are like schools for basketball for all different ages until maybe 16, and then you have to try to help yourself.”
Fortunately, Mescheriakov had the perfect model for such a move in his brother Egor, a stand-out at George Washington in the late 90s and a member of the Colonials’ All-Century Team.
“He pretty much had the same story as me,” Mescheriakov said. “He gave me a lot of advice, but mostly that you have to work hard and try to do your best everyday.”
In 2006, Mescheriakov moved to Maryland, where he stayed with a friend of his brother’s and attended St. John’s Prospect Hall for his senior year of high school. The “Shooting Czar,” as he came to be known by the local Frederick News-Post, was an instant success at St. John’s. He averaged 14.4 points a game and shot 50 percent from the floor for the Vikings, good enough to earn him an All-Met honorable mention.  He was also an instant fan favorite—the St. John’s student section would erupt into a “Bel-a-rus” chant with every made three. Despite his on-court success, adapting to new surroundings proved to be more difficult.
“When I first got here, I didn’t speak English at all,” he said. “I was far away from home and far from my parents. It was a difficult experience.”
But Mescheriakov’s skills needed no translation, and it didn’t take long for him to garner the interest of local colleges. Richmond and Loyola were two of the first to come knocking. With his sweet shot and substantial size, Mescheriakov could probably have played right away at either school, but settling isn’t in his nature.
“I’m the kind of person who is always looking forward, looking for the maximum,” he said. “I saw my future on a good team.”
The Hoyas, fresh off a trip to the Final Four, were that team. When a full athletic scholarship was thrown into the mix, there was little doubt as to what school the Belarusian would choose.
“Georgetown,” he said. “That is the kind of team I wanted it to be.”
No one expected Mescheriakov, a converted guard, to work his way into the Hoya line-up during his freshman year; not with so many members of the Final Four squad ahead of him. In fact, Mescheriakov had to give up the number 55 that he wore in high school in honor of his brother because the Hoyas’ star center Roy Hibbert had already claimed it.  Any hope of an immediate impact disappeared completely when Mescheriakov was forced to sit out the first half of the season for an NCAA violation stemming from a brief professional stint in Belarus.
Over the summer, Mescheriakov made a point of improving his ball-handling to go along with his textbook jumper. He also worked on his inside game during spirited one-on-one contests with Egor. Most importantly, though, he gained valuable experience rubbing elbows with local college stand-outs and NBA veterans in the Kenner Summer League. There’s no shame in being the foreign guy who never misses in warm-ups, but those who showed up at McDonough this summer now know him as one of the best pure shooters on the team. Mescheriakov may even be the best, although he’s not so sure.
“It is a hard question,” he said. “We have too many good shooters, like Chris Wright, DaJuan [Summers], and Jessie [Sapp]. But I think I can happily say that I am one of the best.”
There are a lot of things that Mescheriakov has to improve upon before he can earn playing time. While he has the size and skills to contribute, he lacks lateral quickness and his suspect defense makes him a liability in the Big East. But you can’t keep a shooter down forever, and no one can deny the game of basketball’s simplest mathematical truth: three points are better than two.  Just don’t expect to see much of Mescheriakov on Monday, not outside of warm-ups anyway. Then again, there’s nothing quite as relaxing before a big game as the soft swish of the net produced by Georgetown’s Shooting Czar.

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