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How a Year in Dodge City helped Nick Pringle prepare for the big dance

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Before Nick Pringle shone on college basketball’s brightest stage, he had to make a stop in Dodge, City, Kansas.

Nicknamed the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” the Midwestern city’s Main Street is home to an Applebees’, an IHOP, and countless Mexican restaurants fused in a dated homage to the Wild West. Dodge City doesn’t offer much in the way of social life, but it’s the ideal place to establish a working-class identity.

“It was a place in the middle of nowhere,” Pringle said. “There was nothing really to do there except grind. I kind of got that dog in me from there. I just learned there how to be a better person and it helped me in the long run.”

Playing in a 1,500 seat community college arena was not part of the plan for Pringle. A native of Seabrook, South Carolina, he spent his freshman season 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, explaining that he “didn’t really settle down and buy a lot.” This lack of discipline extended into the classroom, where his struggles ultimately forced him to put his name on the transfer portal.

His limited playing time coupled with less than stellar academic grades limited Pringles offerings primarily to junior college programs. It also opened 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 he was at USC Salkehatchie. After initially losing to Wofford, he wasted no time in reaching for the 6ft 9 forward.

Williams called Pringle and his AAU trainer and explained why he should commit to Dodge City while laying out a step-by-step plan that would take him back to Division I.

“I told him, ‘I don’t care if you averaged two points and two rebounds at Wafford, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing academically, every single Division I in the country is going to want to recruit you.'”

Pringle headed to Dodge City with pressure to prove himself in the classroom and on the court. That, coupled with his hunger to return to college basketball’s highest level, ignited the flame that fueled him for the next year.

“There was an intensity and poignancy about him in high school — it grew,” Williams said. “I think when things didn’t work out at Wofford it really put a chip on his shoulder. He had an edge, a pop, a meanness about him. He had a really good motor in high school and played with a lot of energy that I found contagious. I think that energy really skyrocketed after Wofford. He had that motivation, that chip on his shoulder, and that really helped his energy.

Pringles Drive helped him to seven double-doubles, including a season-high 20 rebounds against Hutchinson Community College. Led by their hardened forward, Dodge City compiled a 30-5 record and earned a birth in the NJCAA D1 National Championship tournament.

Pringle ended his stint at JUCO averaging 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He received the KJCCC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the conference All-Defensive Team. His performance on the floor led to him being named the top JUCO player in the country, which came with a string of Division I offers from Alabama to Georgia. Pringle signed with Crimson Tide and brought his hunger with him to Tuscaloosa.

It took Alabama to bring Charles Bediako forward at a meeting on the court to find out.

“He’s really intense and he’s really competitive,” said Bediako. “He’ll let you know for sure. I feel like it helps me sharpen my mind.”

His intensity is what he’s known for in the dressing room and there have been times throughout the season when some of his teammates have boiled over. Bediako and Noah Gurley said they both “got into” Pringle during training because of his intensity and will to win everything.

For Bediako, he’s just happy Pringle is in Alabama and just has to face him in practice.

“I was surprised that he came from JUCO,” said Bediako. “He’s a good player, actually a great player. He could go anywhere to play but he chose to play with us and it just goes to show how much he bought into this team. He’s not worried about his minutes and is just ready for his time to come.”

It was a bit of a wait for Pringle before he got his chance to shine.

During the first three months of the season, Pringle appeared in 25 games, scoring 10 or more points in just three of those contests. He only spent an average of seven minutes per game, mostly relieving Bediako when he got into trouble or when he needed a breather.

But against Georgia, Pringle had 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 with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

When the forward got it going from the ground, the Bulldogs couldn’t do anything to stop it as an efficient 9-for-12 shootout ensued.

“One-on-one, as a big man, he’s probably the hardest thing to guard,” said Noah Clowney. “He’s strong, he’s super athletic. You have to stop him and his momentum when he lifts off the ground, think of it as two points. “

From there, Pringle’s role grew as he became one of the first players off the bench, typically called upon to kick-start the team with a thunderous dunk or through an attack. With confidence growing, it was only a matter of time before the forward had another explosive game.

Pringle’s opportunity came Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

With Alabama needing a spark to secure a first-round win in the NCAA tournament, head coach Nate Oats turned to the former JUCO player, who delivered. In 20 minutes, Pringle scored 19 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds to the win.

“I was really happy to see him play well in an NCAA tournament game because there were games where he didn’t play much at all,” Oats said. “He’s frustrated, like all really good players, without playing much. but he coped well, he just got better and better.

“I’m happy to see him play. I’m happy to get Charles a little rest. Hopefully we can build on that and build some confidence. So when we need him, he has a lot of confidence to play well for us.”

It was his brightest moment on the biggest stage, but all Williams could see was the same talented boy he’d seen in South Carolina. Now, Pringle serves as an inspiration for every underrecruited basketball player who dreams of making it into the national spotlight.

“It’s cool to see someone who had to figure it out and find a way to get where they are because it just means more,” Williams said. “Everyone has a different story and a different path. The thing about Nick is that it wasn’t handed over. He really had to earn it to get to where he is today. I’m just really proud of him.”

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