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Eastern grad Andrew Nicholas draws inspiration from his grandmother

He was the most prolific boys' scorer in YAIAA basketball history with a certain big-game panache.

And she was there at every one of his sporting and scholastic events for years, the grandmother who spoiled him with her time and caring.

They were generations apart and yet the best of friends. Doris Moffet still means the world to Eastern York grad Andrew Nicholas.

"From the day he was born they had a special connection," said Julie Nicholas, his mother. "Both redheads, both blue eyes. They were very close. She always praised him and made a big fuss."

It all went by so quickly. Remember Andrew Nicholas raining 3-pointers, the crowd roaring during that gallant rally against the nation's No. 1 team, Neumann-Goretti? Now, he's already a graduate of Monmouth University.

And his grandmother is still inspiring him through it all.

She died of pancreatic cancer when Nicholas was a high school junior. A year later, he went to play basketball at Monmouth in New Jersey. He became a starter as a freshman but things just didn't feel right.

He missed his grandmother dearly and often thought of how her cancer fight ended up bringing his family together. He soaked in everything the hospice workers did to make her comfortable in those last weeks.

"When she passed away it was like I lost a part of me, as well," he said. "To this day, I still get upset about it. That's a feeling I don't want other people to have. I want people to get help to get closure ..."

He not only wanted to help others, he also wanted to help them and their families navigate the toughest times. He decided to study social work with a focus on senior citizens.

Basketball, of course, stayed important, too. He averaged nearly nine points a game as a college freshman, coolly draining a pair of 3-pointers in his debut against Villanova. The stage was never too bright.

But things also never went nearly as smoothly as he hoped. After starting strong as a sophomore — leading the team at 14 points per game — he missed the second half of the season from heel surgery.

Then came knee problems and more surgery. He also missed time from a concussion. Plus, before his senior season, he was asked to switch roles and come off the bench for the first time.

Sure enough, he scored less than eight points per game last winter, his lowest average in college. But his team was finally winning and others noticed. "You see a guy like 'Red' walking around and he's expecting to win," Manhattan coach Steve Masiello told the Asbury Park Press. "He's bought in to being the sixth man, and now he's one of the best sixth men in this conference. He's not worried about his numbers anymore and that's great."

Nicholas matured away from the court, too. He begins work on a master's degree in the fall and envisions counseling cancer patients and opening his own licensed clinical social work practice one day.

For the past several months, though, he worked at a long-term care facility to counsel patients on rehab assignments as well as those in hospice care with only days or weeks to live.

He knew he belonged, which makes sense. What other high school kids would regularly stroll into the bleachers before and after Eastern games to chat up the oldest fans?

"He has a kind heart to them. He listens to them. He spends time with them," his mother said. "I guess, in a way, he feels close to his Nan by doing that. ... He's a sensitive soul."

He says his grandmother still guides him.

Whether it's on his newest summer job, which is teaching kids basketball and tutoring them on life lessons. Or in the fall when he hopes to land an internship with an out-patient psychiatric facility.

It's all about giving to others a part of what was given to him.

"She's a huge influence on me still to this day. Everything I do I try to be respectful because I know she's watching down on me. I want her to see how successful I am.

"I'm always trying to do the right thing."

Frank Bodani is a sports writer for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2104, or @YDRPennState.