Her stats tell a good bit of the story.
Drexel senior point guard Hannah Nihill seems to have embedded herself into the top 10 of so many Colonial Athletic Association individual statistics. Going into this weekend, she was fourth in scoring, second in steals (but first in CAA games), sixth in assists, third in assist-to-turnover ratio ... You want more? Ninth in the league in free-throw percentage, 10th in field-goal percentage, ninth in three-pointers made, and 10th in three-point percentage.
There should be another category: turnovers forced. Do they keep that stat?
“You know, I wish we did,” said Drexel coach Amy Mallon, her young team now 10-7 and 7-5 in the CAA. “I feel like that’s a stat that gets overlooked every year.”
By that, Mallon means Nihill has been overlooked in past years for the CAA all-defensive team.
“As a coach, that angers me,’' Mallon said. “The pressure’s she’s able to put on for an entire 40 minutes … relentless — when I think of that word, I think of Hannah. "
This 5-foot-3 Cardinal O’Hara graduate took her game to Drexel and just kept doing her thing, often for 94 feet of the court. One regular observer compared her defensive presence to a Cirque du Soleil act, Nihill bouncing to the ground but back up just as quickly. You get credit for steals but not for causing traveling violations or forcing the ball to fly out of bounds.
What’s different for Nihill this season is at the other end. After 85% of Drexel’s offensive production graduated from last year, the coaches had conversations with Nihill, who averaged 5.9 points per game last season. Taking more shots this season would be expected of her, the opposite of a selfish act. Nihill recalls a bunch of virtual conversations during the pandemic, including one in particular with associate head coach Stacy Weiss.
“Talking to her about working on the pull-up [jumper] and just creating shots off the dribble,’' Nihill said.
It didn’t come up that maybe she could score 32 points against Delaware, like she did last Friday, pushing her season average to over 16 points a game.
“Where I could find a court,” Nihill said of her focus on shooting last summer. “At the beach, I went to outdoor courts. I’d go to my old grade school, try to sneak in and get some shots in.”
Probably didn’t take much work to find someone with a key to the gym at St. Bernadette in Drexel Hill. A little gym but a hoops hotbed.
“A lot of kids, with the pandemic, they weren’t able to do anything,” Mallon said. “She was like old-school, working on all that. Did I see it? No, we were all quarantined. She just proved that you can find a way. She never really thought about herself as a great shooter. We told her, ‘You have the green light, and you’re going to have make those shots.’ ”
Also, Nihill wasn’t the mouthy type, and even though she was an instant starter and CAA rookie of the year, maybe she could be the little sister to the older girls the last three years. Mallon said that this season is different. Nihill is responsible for calling out offensive and defensive sets and changes. She’s taken to it.
“The transition even in leadership,” Mallon said. “I said to her, ‘The one thing I know about you, Hannah, you’re cut out for what’s happening. Of all the leaders we could have had, you’re really built for this.’ "
What Mallon meant was that while COVID-19 has presented unimaginable hurdles, Nihill already faced down bigger ones in her life, going back to the very start of her Dragons career, missing the first game completely because it was three days after she had donated bone marrow to her younger sister Sydney, who had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (Sydney, now a high school sophomore, is doing great, older sis reports.)
The worries about her sister meant basketball was an outlet for Nihill that freshman year, and she was out there starting the next week when Drexel had its home opener, a quick, quick, quick return to action after the bone marrow transplant.
Quick, quick, quick is how Nihill always has done it. The father of a teammate from her Comets AAU 9-year-old team told her in 2018, “You play like a little Kyle Lowry.”
“Who’s that?” Hannah thought, not knowing who Lowry was, although she certainly knew that her teammate’s father, Jay Wright, was the head men’s coach at Villanova.
That relentless style — does she tone it down a bit in practice?
“Sometimes I have to tone her down a little bit,” Mallon said. “That’s her. I think she thinks if she doesn’t do it, she won’t be able to do it.”
That 32 points at Delaware wasn’t enough.
“She doesn’t want a compliment — you look at it, she scored 32 points and actually put us in position to win, down 17,” Mallon said. “A kid like Hannah, she’s beating herself up while you’re so proud of her. Pure will.”
The stats are all great and make you want to know the story. There’s just more to it, always has been with this one.