Equalizing the 1952-53 team with a 10-1 record start, Bobcat basketball has adopted a new mantra. As the #Takers moved into conference play, the success can largely be traced back to junior guard Nijal Pearson.
Pearson rose to Texas State’s top 10 lists in scoring, steals and 3-pointers made. Reflecting on the work he has put in coming into this season and his humble beginnings, Pearson said playing basketball was his ticket out of a life in a “rough place.”
“Beaumont doesn’t have a lot of opportunities,” Pearson said. “Basketball got me to college and gave me the education… Beaumont is a tough rough place, it’s just… I don’t want to talk down on my city because I love my city, (but) It’s a rough place.”
Growing up, Pearson idolized his older brother, Nicholas, and hoped to one day follow in his footsteps on the court. Tragedy struck the family, however, in 2010, and Nicholas died from testicular cancer. Nijal was in the seventh grade and said he revered his older brother as a father figure.
“He taught me everything,” Pearson said. “(From) the way I walk, to the way I talk, to how I look at your eyes right now when we talk. He was more of a father figure than an older brother, but both at the same time. Father figure, big brother, best friend all in one.”
Since Pearson was forced to grow up quickly on and off the court, maturity played a large role in his life, as well as the rest of the Bobcat team. Person said junior guard Jaylen Shead, freshman forward Alonzo Sule and veteran Alex Peacock have helped take some of the pressure off his back.
“Those are some unselfish guys,” Pearson said. “Those guys do a lot of little things that (are) unseen in the stat book. If you know basketball and really sit there and watch the game, you watch how big of an impact they have.”
Last year, during Pearson’s sophomore year, the team depended on his leadership and voted him as team captain. Pearson said the experience made him develop and cultivate his leadership skills.
“I was voted team captain,” Pearson said. “Leading 22 to 23-year-old players was tough. The biggest thing about experience is on the court we trust each other. With me (in) my third year with (Coach) Kaspar, I trust his system more.”
While expectations for this team were not always high, head coach Danny Kaspar has always liked to surprise teams and raise expectations, which he made clear during the pre-season press conference.
“I’m smiling when they pick us 8th… I don’t think we are an 8th place team,” Kaspar said. “Go ahead pick us low we will surprise you.”
The 2019 version of Nijal Pearson has been a revenge tour of sorts. After losing a heartbreaking game to the University of Texas at San Antonio last year. This year, Pearson and the Bobcats answered with a thrilling 69-68 win, with the deciding points delivered by Pearson with 11 seconds remaining earlier in the year. Pearson ended the game with 26 points on the board.
Some have called Pearson’s style of play angry, but other fans and broadcasters like Bill Culhane evaluate Pearson’s style of play based on what the team needed from him.
“I don’t think he is playing angry, as some people are saying,” Culhane said. “I see someone with the same laser-focus I’ve seen since he got to Texas State. With the departures of Kavin Gilder-Tilbury, Ojai Black, and Bobby Conley, from the 22 win team two seasons ago, Nijal was forced into a leadership position, as a young player. This season, you can tell how he has continued to mature. I think last year helped him and we’re seeing it on the court.”
While Pearson seemingly plays with fire as the defacto leader of the #Takers, fueling any competitive spirit does not come easy. Players who chase stat lines may teeter out during the mid-late season, but Pearson’s fire burns deeper than an all-time scoring record.
Priding himself on his work ethic and approach to the game instilled by his older brother, Nijal proudly wears the number 22, paying homage to his brother who wore the same number.