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Illinois basketball’s Kipper Nichols is ready to play and look good doing so

Mitchell Fransen

Mitchell Fransen

Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

After sitting out last season, Kipper Nichols is still going to have to wait his turn.

Illinois basketball’s first game is Nov. 11, but the season won’t officially begin for Nichols until Dec. 17 when Illinois takes on BYU in Chicago.

For the Illini, that will be the 12th game of the season. For Nichols, it will be his first game since the Ohio high school state semifinals on March 27, 2015. Nichols, from Cleveland, Ohio, put up 20 points and secured nine rebounds in a 57-51 loss.

Nichols already knows Dec. 17 will be a great feeling.

“That will be awesome,” Nichols said. “It’ll be a relief. I tell everybody I feel like an old head, but I’m a young guy. That day will be full of excitement for me.”

Nichols, however, is only 19.

The 6-foot-6 forward signed a national letter of intent with Tulane but did not enroll in fall classes due to personal reasons. He officially joined the Illini in December 2015, but the NCAA deemed him as a transfer and declared he had to sit out a year.

But that has only motivated him more.

“I come out and I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Nichols said. “I like to compete. I’m a guy that’s happy whenever the rest of the team does well.”

Nichols is looking to make an impact — if not with his play, with his style.

During Illini Media Day on Oct. 7, Nichols was decked out with an intricate shooting sleeve and an upside down Nike headband. The sleeve was passed down from former Illini guard Mike LaTulip.

When Nichols expressed how much he liked it, LaTulip let him try it one day in practice. Nichols had such a good day in practice with it on that LaTulip gave it to him for keeps.

As for the upside down Nike headband, Nichols says he likes to be spontaneous.

“I’m trying something different,” Nichols said. “My plan is to have a lot of people wanting to be out there wearing an upside down Nike headband. So, we’ll see how that goes. (I’m) trying to start something new.”

While it’s hard to predict what Nichols will do in his first organized game in over a year, one thing is for sure — he’ll look good doing so.

“In basketball, people who don’t play the game might not understand how important the way you dress on the court means,” Nichols said. “Look good, feel good. Feel good, play good type of mentality.”

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@MattGertsmeier

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