Reed Nikko was the lone senior on the Missouri men’s basketball team this past season, which was cut short due to the coronavirus before the Tigers played in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Nikko, a fisheries and wildlife major from Maple Grove, Minnesota, started 20 games and became a key contributor this winter while turning into a fan favorite.
The following is a first-person account written by Nikko about the final chapter of his career as a Tiger:
Before I start, I just want to thank the Columbia Tribune for allowing me this opportunity and I hope all the readers of this are staying safe. I am stuck at home like the rest of you, so I guess now is as good of a time as any to write about this year in my own words.
This year will always stick out to me when I reflect on my time as a Mizzou Tiger. It started with playing limited minutes — in some games I was barely seeing the court — and as a senior it was definitely a pride check. It was hard to be in that situation as a senior, but I decided the best thing I could do was to be as good of a leader as I could be from the bench and try to set an example in practice.
The few games where I did see bigger minutes, my stats weren’t eye-popping, but I tried to play as hard as I could. This went on basically until the holiday break. We had just won our annual rivalry game vs. Illinois and had one game remaining in nonconference before our SEC opener.
JT (Jeremiah Tilmon) was out that game with a foot injury. At the time I thought it’d be a one-game thing, but I got the nod to start that night in his place in what would be the first of many starts I would get to finish off the season. The next game was the conference opener at Kentucky. JT played limited minutes in what would be his last game for a while, but I got the start against a talented UK team. I played horribly. I had one of my worst defensive games of the year and we lost.
The next handful of games I played better, but we won only one of our next six. Then we played Georgia at home. It would be the game that would kick off me playing the best basketball of my career and far more importantly ended our losing streak. I posted a career high in points and had a crucial block late to help seal a 20-point comeback win.
Looking back on it, this game changed everything for me. I started playing much more confidently the rest of the year, posting some solid performances. We were able to have a pretty solid back half of the season as a team, including another Rally for Rhyan win and a home upset over No. 11 Auburn.
We felt poised to make a run in the SEC Tournament, where we were able to earn a bye and get another chance at an A&M team that had beaten us twice already.
However, as Mizzou fans know, the game never happened.
The SEC Tournament always feels special. It’s your chance to make a push. It’s postseason games in March, your ticket to an NCAA bid. It is what you dream about as a player your whole life.
We arrived in Nashville and immediately we started hearing more and more about the coronavirus. We had heard that nearby Vanderbilt had already shut its whole campus down, but surely that was out of an abundance of caution. There is no way they won’t let us play, I thought. It never even crossed my mind until I was asked about it the day before our game.
That Wednesday night I sat in the hotel with Kobe (Brown) and we watched the news come in about Rudy Gobert and other conferences like the Ivy League that had already canceled their tournaments. The writing was on the wall: Even if we played that Thursday with no fans as planned, I figured that it would all be canceled by the next day anyways.
As much as I knew that, I still held out hope and went about the next day the same as any other game day. We were in a team study hall after breakfast and coach (Cuonzo Martin) texted us that the tournament was canceled.
I went to my room and cried.
As our only senior, it was the worst way to go without even getting a chance.
None of us really talked about it beyond just how crazy it all was. It was a lot to process, but I think that the sport cancellations are what caused many people to take this virus seriously. I would just implore whoever may be reading this to continue to so we can all get through this.
Even without a storybook ending or really any sort of ending, this year was special. My coaches have pushed me and helped me grow into the best player I’ve ever been, and the fans supported me.
But even more than this year, my four years as a Missouri Tiger have been special. I have just now begun to reflect on it all and it truly has been the best four years of my life. I feel like Columbia is my home and that I have grown up so much since coming here. I feel like I was meant to wear the black and gold, and the fans embraced me as an out-of-state kid and made this place so special.
My time at Mizzou has come to an end and it feels weird just to type that out. I’m figuring out what’s next, but hiring processes have largely been frozen due to COVID-19 so job hunting has been difficult. I’ve been in touch with agents and am exploring the option of playing overseas as well, but right now I really don’t know.
Whatever is next, wherever it may be, I’ll be excited for it and I’ll be ready — thanks to everything this university has taught me.