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Make-or-break month: Zac Nuttall’s first week on the road features bad food, good memories

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Zac Nuttall at Hoop Mountain All-Academic Camp (Kristy Nuttall)

To provide a window into the pressure facing borderline recruits trying to earn their first Division I scholarship offers, Yahoo! Sports will track guard Zac Nuttall during the July evaluation period. This is the second installment in the series.

Zac Nuttall's three-week mission to prove he's good enough to play Division I basketball didn't begin under ideal conditions.

The flight Nuttall's AAU team took from Los Angeles on Thursday evening didn't arrive in Boston until almost 2 a.m. A combination of fluttery nerves and the three-hour time difference kept him up another two hours even though he had to be awake by 7 a.m. And breakfast Friday morning? Well, it's safe to say nobody will mistake the dorm food at Brandeis University for four-star restaurant fare.

"I really couldn't describe how bad the food was," Nuttall said. "You couldn't cut the french toast with a knife. It was so hard you had to use your hands to break it."

In spite of his empty stomach and sleep-weary legs, Nuttall actually performed rather well at Hoop Mountain All-Academic camp in Waltham, Mass., his first major event of the July evaluation period. The rising senior averaged double-digit assists at the three-day camp and came four rebounds shy of a triple-double in his team's last game on Sunday, helping lead BTI Select to four wins in six games.

The solid effort from Nuttall was a good start to the three-week stretch during which the NCAA allows college coaches to evaluate prospects in person during the summer. Since most Division I coaches will have a pretty good idea who their top Class of 2013 targets are by the end of July, Nuttall believes this is likely his last chance to prove he can compete at college basketball's highest level.

Harvard and Yale were among the Division I programs who sent a coach to scout the camp, but the majority of coaches in attendance were from academic-oriented Division II and III schools and prep schools. Nuttall's parents said a number of those coaches watched BTI Select closely and expressed interest in their son through his AAU coach Craig Stover, suggesting Nuttall will have other options even if he can't persuade a Division I coach to take a chance on him.

"It will be really interesting to see who we get calls and emails from because we are not always allowed to talk to everybody right now," mother Kristy Nuttall said.

For Nuttall to catch the attention of the college coaches watching him this month, he must prove he does enough things well to compensate for his lack of prototypical size or off-the-charts athleticism for a Division I point guard. Generously listed at 6-foot-1, 167 pounds, Nuttall has worked relentlessly to maximize his potential in basketball, lifting weights and practicing his shooting and ball handling skills daily and working with a shooting coach and a plyometrics instructor several times per week.

It was difficult for Nuttall to showcase the improvements he has made to his game at the Fullcourt Press All-West Showcase, the camp in Long Beach, Calif. that he attended Wednesday before leaving for Boston the following day. Since camp directors threw players onto teams randomly, guys had less incentive to share the ball and more reason to jack up shots in hopes of impressing coaches from UCLA, UC Irvine, Cal Poly and Air Force that were lined up against the wall or perched in the bleachers.

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Zac Nuttall (photo via Kristy Nuttall)

"All the kids want to take every single shot," Nuttall said. "It's really hard to balance it because as a lead guard you want to get your teammates involved but you also have to look to score and attack too. In those camps it's tough because if you give up the ball, you're not going to get it back."

All-Academic camp at Brandeis University was much more comfortable for Nuttall because he played alongside his BTI Select teammates, many of whom he has known for four years. Passing and ball movement were particularly impeccable in the team's final game Sunday when BTI Select scored a camp record 124 points and Nuttall posted 18 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

Since the purpose of All-Academic Camp is to provide top student athletes with a venue to showcase their basketball talents to elite academic institutions, camp directors had players attend college-style lectures in between games. Nuttall and his teammates also spent Sunday evening and all day Monday touring some of the most prestigious prep schools and colleges in the Boston-area, from Harvard, to Tufts, to MIT.

The most eye-opening aspect of the weekend in Boston for Nuttall and his family was it made them consider one year of prep school as a more viable option than they did before.

Although the goal remains finding a Division I program or an academic-oriented lower-division college willing offer Nuttall a scholarship, a top prep school would provide him another year to work on his game in case he can't find an ideal four-year option. By visiting Northfield Mount Hermon and talking to coaches from various other schools, the Nuttalls learned that not all prep schools are the basketball factories they perceived them to be.

"I thought it was a continuation year where you redid some classes and work only on basketball, but after going to Mount Hermon, hearing what their curriculum is and hearing what they do for their players, it does seem like it could offer a lot of options," Kristy Nuttall said. "They really do give you an introduction to college life and give you a year to get things together before you go."

Added Zac, "If you go to prep school, you're going to work on basketball and work on academics, and it sounds like that's pretty much all you're going to do. I have no problem with that."

Of course, earning a Division I scholarship offer is still Nuttall's ultimate goal this month. And he'll have that chance the next two weeks since dozens of high-profile college coaches will be in the bleachers during the tournaments in Anaheim and Las Vegas that BTI Select has entered.

Asked what advice he'd have for Nuttall before he starts play at the Best of Summer tournament in Anaheim on Wednesday, Ron Nuttall said his biggest advice will be for his son to believe in himself.

"I'm going to be encouraging Zac to be doing more of the same in terms of building confidence and remaining confident," Ron Nuttall said. "When Zac is confident as a point guard running the floor, making good passes and concentrating on what he's doing, the rest of the team tends to come up with him. When he sets them up nice, they tend to come through."

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