BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Before Nick Pringle shined on the brightest stage in college basketball, he had to make a stop in Dodge, City Kansas.
Nicknamed the “Cowboy Capital of The World,” the midwestern town’s main strip features an Applebees’, an IHOP and a myriad of Mexican restaurants melded together in an outdated homage to the Old West. Dodge City doesn’t offer much in terms of social life, but it’s the ideal setting to establish a blue-collar identity.
“It was a place in the middle of nowhere,” Pringle said. “There was nothing really to do there but grind. I kind of got that dog in me from there. I just learned how to be a better person there and it helped me in the long run.”
Playing in a 1,500-seat community college arena wasn’t part of the plan for Pringle. The Seabrook, South Carolina native spent his first season of college four hours away from home at Wofford College. In 15 games with the Terriers, he averaged 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Pringle admits those numbers should have been better, stating he “didn’t really lock in and buy into a lot.” That lack of discipline extended into the classroom, where his struggles ultimately forced him to put his name in the transfer portal.
His limited playing time coupled with less-than-stellar academic marks restricted Pringle’s offers to mostly junior college programs. It also opened up the door for Jake Williams to make his move.
Williams, who was the head coach at Dodge City at the time, recruited Pringle out of high school while working at USC Salkehatchie. After originally losing out to Wofford, he wasted no time reaching out to the 6-foot-9 forward.
Williams called Pringle and his AAU coach stating his case as to why he should commit to Dodge City while laying out a step-by-step plan which would lead him back to the Division I level.
“I told him, ‘I don’t care if you averaged two points and two rebounds at Wafford, if you do what you’re supposed to do academically, you’re gonna have every single Division I in the country wanting to recruit you.'”
Pringle was headed to Dodge City with the pressure of proving himself in the classroom and on the court. That along with his hunger to get back to the top level of college basketball lit the flame that fueled him over the next year.
“He had an intensity and edge about him in high school — it grew,” Williams said. “I think when things didn’t pan out at Wofford, it really put a chip on his shoulder. He had an edge, a pop, a nastiness about him. He had a really good motor in high school and played with a lot of energy which I thought was infectious. I do think that energy really skyrocketed after Wofford. He had this motivation, this chip on his shoulder and it really helped his energy.”
Pringle’s drive helped him record seven double-doubles, including a season-high 20 rebounds against Hutchinson Community College. Led by its hard-nosed forward Dodge City posted a 30-5 record, earning a birth in the NJCAA D1 National Championship tournament.
Pringle finished his stint in JUCO averaging 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He earned the KJCCC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the conference’s All-Defensive Team. His production on the floor led to him becoming the No. 1 rated JUCO player in the country, which came with a slew of Division I offers from Alabama to Georgia. Pringle signed with the Crimson Tide and brought his hunger with him to Tuscaloosa.
It took Alabama forward Charles Bediako all of one meeting on the court to figure that out.
“He’s really intense and he’s really competitive,” Bediako said. “He’ll let you know about it for sure. I feel like he helps sharpen my mind.”
His intensity is what he’s known for in the locker room and throughout the season there were times when it boiled over with some of his teammates. Bediako and Noah Gurley said they’ve both “gotten into it” with Pringle during practice because of his intensity and his will to win in everything.
For Bediako, he’s just glad Pringle’s on Alabama and only has to face him in practice.
“I was surprised he was coming out of JUCO,” Bediako said. “He’s a good player, a great player actually. He could go anywhere to play, but he chose to play with us and it just shows how much he’s bought into this team. He’s not worried about his minutes and he’s just ready for when his time comes.”
It was a bit of a wait for Pringle before he got his chance to shine.
For the first three months of the season, Pringle appeared in 25 games and tallied 10 or more points in just three of those contests. He was averaging just seven minutes per game mostly coming in relief of Bediako when he got into foul trouble or if he needed a breather.
But against Georgia, Pringle got a chance to unleash that intensity on an opponent. That night in front of more than 15,000 Crimson Tide, Pringle had the game of his career wracking up 19 points and 12 rebounds.
When the forward got it going from the floor, there was nothing the Bulldogs could do to stop it as went an efficient 9-for-12 shooting.
“One-on-one he’s probably the hardest guy to guard as a big man,” Noah Clowney said. “He’s strong, he’s super athletic. You gotta stop him and his momentum, if he gets off the ground consider it two points.”
From then on, Pringle’s role grew as he became one of the first players off the bench and was usually called upon to jumpstart the team with a thunderous dunk or by taking a charge. With his confidence growing it was only a matter of time before the forward had another explosive game.
Pringle’s opportunity came on Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
With Alabama needing a spark to ensure a first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Nate Oats turned to the one-time JUCO player who delivered. In 20 minutes, Pringle scored 19 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds in the win.
“I was really happy to see him play well in an NCAA Tournament game because there’s been games where he hasn’t played much at all,” Oats said. “He’s gotten frustrated, as all really good players would, without playing a lot, but he’s handled it well. He’s just kept getting better.
“Happy to see him play. Happy to be able to rest Charles a little bit. Hopefully, we can build on that, get some confidence going, so when we need him, he’s got a lot of confidence to play well for us.”
It was his shining moment on the grandest stage but all Williams could see was the same talented kid he saw in South Carolina. Now Pringle serves as inspiration for every under-recruited basketball player who has dreams to make it to the national spotlight.
“It’s cool seeing someone that had to figure it out and make a way to get where they are because it just means more that way,” Williams said. “Everyone’s story and path is different. The thing with Nick is, it wasn’t handed to him. He had to really earn it to get where he’s at today. I’m just really proud of him.”
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