New Missouri center looks to play ‘umbrella’ role for Tigers

After losing a safeguard figure in his life, freshman Reed Nikko has the opportunity to play that role for a rebuilding Missouri team.
Reed Nikko plays in a game for Maple Grove. Rich Moll Photography

Reed Nikko’s high school teammates called him “the umbrella.”

Towering over opponents at 6-foot-10, Nikko protected the Maple Grove High School basketball team from a shower of scores, blocking 80 shots in the 2015–16 regular season, the seventh-most of any player in Minnesota last year.

Nikko’s reliability on defense allowed his teammates to play more aggressively.

“When he was in the lane, we knew we can take more chances and try to get more steals,” Maple Grove guard Brad Davison said.

Next season, Maple Grove will be without its umbrella, though. Now recovering from a dual hip surgery in the offseason, Nikko has moved on to Missouri, where he will look to fill that same role on a Tigers team that has finished a combined 19–44 over the past two seasons.

Three years ago, Nikko lost the umbrella in his own life.

Nikko’s father, Russ, died unexpectedly from a combination of heart issues on June 19, 2013. This day — in the summer before his sophomore year — left him without his father, longtime basketball coach and friend. It also left him with a large void to fill in the Nikko household.

“It forces you to grow up a lot quicker,” Nikko said. “You go from being 14 years old with no real care in the world to having to be responsible for teaching your little brother about growing up and becoming a man.”

In addition to becoming a father figure for his younger brother, Parker, Nikko said he had to help his mother “hold things down” around the house. He also had to answer calls telling people about his father’s passing.

“It was a big thrust into adulthood,” Nikko said.

But instead of overwhelming Nikko, his father’s death focused him.

“His work ethic soared after that because he was playing for a purpose,” Davison said. “He was playing for his dad.”

Playing for his dad translated to playing as a varsity starter the next season, which was the start of Nikko’s defensive dominance in Minnesota high school basketball. With his powerful dunks, Nikko helped lead Maple Grove to the state tournament in 2016, the program’s first appearance since 2011.

His dominance near the basket forced teams to take shots from farther away, frustrating opponents.

Tim Theisen, who coaches Maple Grove’s biggest rival, Osseo, knows this all too well. He coached against Nikko twice each season. In the 2016 Maple Grove-Osseo matchup, Nikko scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked six shots.

“He provided nightmares for the opposing teams,” Theisen said. “As a rival, I am glad he is gone.”

Although Theisen certainly won’t miss Nikko the player, he said he will miss Nikko the person. Knowing Nikko for almost six years, Theisen said he always appreciated his respectful personality, and how Nikko always looked him in the eye when speaking to him.

“He is the kind of kid every coach in college would want to have in their program,” Theisen said.

Theisen isn’t the only one to have taken notice. Reed Nikko’s mother, Kristen, received a phone call last fall from Maple Grove’s principal, who commended Reed for his leadership and the example he set for the group of underclassmen he mentored.

Nikko learned this respect early on. Growing up, he was always taught to shake an official’s hand no matter how the game went and to address everyone as either “sir” or “ma’am.”

“(My dad) is the one who built the core of who I am as a person,” Nikko said.

And his defensive prowess is the core of who he is as a player. He still has room to improve offensively, though. With an average of 10 points per game his senior season, Nikko did not have the same impressive offensive statistics as many Power Five Division I recruits.

Nikko alluded to his lack of confidence with the basketball as a main reason for his scoring deficiencies. Davison and Theisen said his role in the offense also contributed to the lack of scoring.

Nikko has focused on improving his touch in the offseason to become more than just a dominant defender for the Tigers. He has also gained more confidence every season, Davison said.

“Instead of getting the ball and looking where to go with it, he gets the ball and thinks, ‘How can I dunk this ball?’” Davison said.

Nikko primarily played center in high school. Theisen, however, thinks he could play power forward and fill more of an offensive role at Mizzou.

“His offensive game is progressing, and I feel his best offensive work is ahead of him,” Theisen said.

But the Tigers, who have lacked size in recent years, will likely rely on Nikko’s ability to be an “umbrella” on defense once he returns to practice after his hip surgeries in the offseason.

Nikko expects to be ready when exhibition play begins in November as he plays in Mizzou Arena for the first time.

Although it will be a new court to call home, his inspiration remains unchanged.

“Every time I go on the court, I am playing for (my dad),” Nikko said. “He means the world to me.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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