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Nijal Pearson redefines what it means to be a freshman athlete

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Nijal Pearson, freshman, shoots a basket Feb. 13 during the game against Arkansas State.
Photo by: Melissa Ueckert | Staff Photographer

Usually, freshmen tend to redshirt or rarely get playing time during games. Nijal Pearson, freshman guard, was quite different.

Before his first scrimmage, Pearson was named a starter and continued to grow into a force to be reckoned with for the men’s basketball team.

Pearson was first introduced to basketball by his older brother, Nicholas, who was his role model and helped him mature. Tragically, Nicholas passed away when Pearson was in the seventh grade.

“He was my father figure,” Pearson said. “I modeled myself after him with mannerisms and the way I play, but he was the one who put the ball in my hands first.”

Coming from Central High School in Beaumont, Pearson helped lead his team to a 28-7 overall record and a co-district championship. He averaged 18.5 points, seven rebounds and nine assists as a senior. He received All-State honors, and was named 22-5A co-district MVP his senior year.

Pearson graduated Magna Cum Laude in high school and is now pursuing a business management degree.

“I like numbers. I don’t really mind playing with numbers and thought it would be fun to have a career in that,” Pearson said. “It would be something challenging.”

Pearson’s transition from high school to college basketball very different. There was more competition, and of course, practices became more intense.

“The biggest change would be that everybody is good, and in high school there are a few stragglers,” Pearson said. “You actually have to prepare, mentally and physically, for the other team now.”

One of the only similarities of the transition is that his favorite fans are always in the crowd. His mother, Stephanie, and his brother Elijah, attend as many home games as possible.

“I think my mom missed like two home games the whole year, and Elijah only misses them when he has to work,” Pearson said.

As a newbie on the team, Pearson was taken under the wing of senior guard Ojai Black.

“Ojai and I kind of clicked the most,” Pearson said. “We hang out a lot.”

Pearson’s hard work and dedication in practice showed when he was named to the starting five list before his first scrimmage of his college career.

He had pre-game jitters, but he knew he had to step up for the team.

“I was nervous, but I had to sit back and think that I could not be nervous; there was a reason I was starting,” Pearson said. “I had to make sure I did my part for the team.”

Being a starter carries a lot of weight. Pearson understands his spot can be taken at any time, so slacking is not an option.

He has managed to consistently be the Bobcats’ top scorer.

“My focus is everything,” Pearson said. “But I just play as well as I can and the ball just seems to find its way in the goal.”

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