Jake Thelen was a Great Valley Lakes Conference Player of the Year for the Knights.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bellarmine’s Division I debut at Cameron Indoor Stadium against a college basketball blue blood in No. 10 Duke might have ended in a 76-54 loss. But it fulfilled a lifelong dream for Knights sophomore Nick Thelen.
“It was just insane,” Thelen said. “My whole life, I’ve been a Duke fan. So being able to play there and walk into the facility and see everything, being able to get on the court, sit on the sidelines, just taking a minute and looking around was an amazing feeling.”
Eventually though, he had to flip from fan to competitor.
“Once you go from sitting on the bench to stepping on the floor and playing, that’s when you got to turn the switch,” Thelen said.
The sophomore from Edgewood turned it for a memorable night. He scored a career-high 14 points while shooting 78 percent from the field and playing a career-best 25 minutes, savoring the night against the Blue Devils. The 25 minutes were just one minute shy of his 2019 season total.
“To be able to look at Nick Thelen and envision what he did Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium is amazing,” head coach Scotty Davenport said. “It’s a credit to Nick Thelen and the work, belief and teaching that goes on in this program. Nick Thelen is a poster boy for that.”
But it’s not the first time a Thelen has shined in the program.
“Knowing the Thelen family, what it meant to him is I got to play better Sunday,” Davenport said. “They defeat human nature. They’re never satisfied.”
Thelen is the youngest of five kids that include two former collegiate athletes: an older brother in Jake, who is a former All-American for Bellarmine men’s basketball and an older sister in Heidi, a former Penn State volleyball player who won a national championship with the Nittany Lions.
Jake is now the second-youngest director of basketball operations at a Power 5 school in the University of Georgia and a former Knights assistant who also coached at St. Xavier High School.
“He left big shoes to fill and like I said, he was an All-American,” Nick Thelen said. “So that’s what I want to be one day.”
The two talk three to four times a week on the phone for about 20 minutes each call, according to Nick. That’s when Jake gets to coach up his younger brother.
“He says you just got to run the floor, play great defense, finish around the rim and be positive with your team,” Nick Thelen said.
The current Knights forward sees himself as a different player from the former one who was named the Great Valley Lakes Conference Player of the Year in 2015.
“He got the ball around the rim and finished very well,” Nick Thelen said. “He was always smart about tracking down rebounds and knowing where the defenders were coming. I think I’m much quicker than him and more athletic. So being able to guard better on defense, I think I’m more capable than he was.”
Davenport thinks the two are similar. He credits their parents for believing in and supporting not just them, but all of their kids. And even though Nick is the youngest, he carries himself with confidence.
“Don’t think Nick Thelen being the youngest means he does not believe in himself,” Davenport said. “He always has. That comes from inside and you can’t coach that.”
“You’re always picked on being the youngest one, but I guess it worked out well because I got a strong mind and it takes a lot to get under my skin,” Thelen said. “I knew that athleticism and all the ideas for the games were there, so it was a matter of putting it all together, just being confident in yourself, going out and playing.”
There’s a long way to go to see if it ends up making him an All-American like his brother. For now, he’s just taking what comes to him, whether that’s a crazy Cameron dream coming true or anything else.
“Nick Thelen learns from his opportunity that’s put in front of him and he expands on that opportunity every single day,” Davenport said.