At 4:30 Sunday morning, Joe Cremo drove his University at Albany basketball teammate David Nichols to Albany International Airport.
Cremo dropped Nichols off, told him he loved him, and said the Great Danes would always be there.
"David is the closest thing I have to family on this team," Cremo said Monday.
Nichols is home in Chicago, grieving with his family over the death of his 24-year-old sister, Cecilia Coleman. She passed away on Saturday morning after a long struggle with leukemia.
With the America East Conference tournament a day away, UAlbany coach Will Brown said he doesn't know when Nichols, who was named to the league's All-Conference first team Monday, will be back. And that is OK.
"The first thing coach says to you when you come on campus is that there is an order," senior tri-captain Dallas Ennema said after practice at SEFCU Arena Monday afternoon. "And family always comes first."
UAlbany, the third seed in the tournament, plays No. 6 Hartford Wednesday night at 7:30 at SEFCU. The Danes are 19-12; the Hawks are 9-22.
At practice Monday, Brown said he was preparing for the game as if Nichols would not be playing. Cremo said he thought his friend might be returning to the team sometime Tuesday.
America East awards
Coach of the Year: John Becker, Vermont
Player of the Year: Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Defensive Player of the Year: Dre Wills, Vermont
Sixth Man of the Year: Darren Payen, Vermont
First team: G-David Nichols, Soph., UAlbany; F-Jahad Thomas, Jr., UMass Lowell; F-Tanner Leissner, Jr., New Hampshire; G-Lucas Woodhouse, Sr., Stony Brook; G-Trae Bell-Haynes, Jr., Vermont
Second team: G-Joe Cremo, Soph., UAlbany; F-Will Darley, Sr., UMBC; G-Jarius Lyles, Jr., UMBC; G-Jaleen Smith, Sr., New Hampshire; F-Anthony Lamb, Fr., Vermont.
Third team: G-Jalen Ross, Sr., Hartford; G-Daniel Dion, Sr., New Hampshire; F-Tyrell Sturdivant, Jr., Stony Brook; G-Ernie Duncan, Soph., Vermont; F-Payton Henson, Jr., Vermont.
All-defensive team: G-Devonte Campbell, Soph., UAlbany; F-Thomas Bruce, Soph., Binghamton; G-K.J. Maura, Jr., UMBC; G/F-Roland Nyama, Jr., Stony Brook; G-Dre Wills, Sr., Vermont.
All-rookie team: F-Andrew Fleming, Fr., Maine; G/F-Arkel Lamar, Fr., UMBC; G-Ricardo Perry, Fr., UMass Lowell; G/F-Akwasi Yeboah, R-Fr., Stony Brook; F-Anthony Lamb, Fr., Vermont.
All-academic team: Joe Cremo, Soph., UAlbany (3.34 GPA, Journalism); David Nichols, Soph., UAlbany (3.88 Communications); Mike Rowley, Sr., UAlbany (3.51 Business); John Rinaldi, Sr., Binghamton (3.58 Business Administration, Finance); Ryan Bernstein, Soph., Maine (3.47 Mass Communications); Joe Sherburne, Soph., UMBC (4.0 Financial Economics); Bryan Sekunda, Jr., Stony Brook (3.42 Business).
"I expect him to come back and give us the best effort possible," Cremo, also a tri-captain, said. "And I know he will. This is a tough situation for him, but we are there for him."
"David is a young kid, a terrific competitor, and I am sure he wants to be with his team." Brown said. "But it's a whole nother ballgame when you go home and have to deal with something like this. Maybe he comes back at some point late Tuesday, maybe he comes back on Wednesday, maybe he doesn't come back until later in the week. I just don't want him thinking about the game. This is life. Our decision is to support David 1,000 percent. There is no time frame on when he would come back."
Brown said that he has kept in touch with Nichols via text messaging.
Nichols, already aware of his sister's passing, played and scored 21 points when UAlbany beat Hartford at SEFCU Arena 80-62 in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
Hartford coach John Gallagher said Monday that he was unaware of the situation. He said he sent along condolences to Brown from the Hartford program.
Gallagher also said that if it would help, he would have been willing to play the playoff game at SEFCU on Thursday. That would give Nichols more time.
"At this time of the year, we are a conference, and we want our best players playing," Gallagher said. "I have great respect for Albany and great respect for that kid and what he is going through. We want to win the game, but we don't want to win the game when someone is short-handed. That's not why we do this."
Brown said he appreciated the gesture from Gallagher, but the game will not be moved.
Nichols, a 6-foot sophomore, is the leading scorer for UAlbany, averaging 17.3 points per game. If he is not here on Wednesday, it's likely that Costa Anderson, a 6-2 junior, would start in Nichols' place. Marqueese Grayson, also a 6-2 junior, who started the first 18 games of the season, would also get some minutes.
"(Monday) we planned for Hartford like David was not going to be here," Brown said. "He has all the time and space he needs. I'm not ruling him out playing on Wednesday. If he walks through the door at 7:45 (p.m.), I'm playing him."
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