WPIAL Alum Q&A – Nolan Cressler

Monday, February 15, 2016 | 3:56 PM

Although the WPIAL has produced some notable NCAA Division I basketball players recently, not many of those athletes could boast that they played meaningful minutes on a team ranked in the top 20 nationally. Former Plum standout Nolan Cressler accomplished that feat earlier this season, though, with Vanderbilt University.

Before Cressler’s rise to prominence in college, he rewrote the record books for the Plum Mustangs. Cressler holds the all-time scoring mark in school history, with more than 1,500 points. His final two seasons were particularly impressive, as he averaged more than 25 points and 7.5 rebounds as a junior, and slightly increased those marks in his senior campaign.

Cressler was particularly versatile for coach Ron Richards, as the 6-foot-4 guard played in the paint for Plum’s defense, while also serving as a primary ballhandler offensively. He was honored for his abilities, as he was named a second-team All-State selection.

Following his time at Plum, Cressler elected to continue his playing career at Cornell University in New York. He played significant minutes as a true freshman, appearing in all 31 contests, including 12 starts. He averaged just shy of 10 points per game, and also shot particularly well from behind the arc, hitting more than 40 percent of his attempts from distance.

As a sophomore, he became the go-to option for the Big Red, averaging nearly 17 points and more than four rebounds. That season, he scored in double figures 22 times, including 23 points in the season opener against Syracuse.

Despite his success with Cornell, Cressler decided to transfer to the Vanderbilt Commodores. Subsequently, he had to sit out the 2014-15 season, during which he qualified for the SEC first-year academic honor roll.

After a year on the sidelines, Cressler returned to action this season, and has had and up-and-down campaign. He saw 14 or more minutes of action in each of the team’s first 13 games, but then his minutes were reduced. Over the past 10 days, however, Cressler has earned more playing time, and has scored in double figures twice in the past three tilts. In 24 contests, including two starts, he is averaging 5.3 points per game, as the Commodores have gone 15-10.

Nolan took time from his busy schedule in the midst of SEC play to answer questions about his on-court career, as well as some of his best memories of Plum, and his favorite athletes.

Q: This has been your first season on the court for Vanderbilt. How would you evaluate the year so far?

A: It has been an up and down year thus far. The good thing is we still have a decent amount SEC games left on our slate, as well as the SEC tournament, to prove that we are a tournament team. Individually, I haven’t really found my rhythm yet this season, but I have kept working hard and trying to do anything I can to help our team be successful. 

Q: What led to your decision to transfer?

A: I decided to transfer from Cornell because I wanted to play at a higher level of basketball. I loved all my teammates there, but once the opportunity presented itself to play at this level, I couldn’t turn down the challenge.

Q: Obviously you were unable to play in games for a year as you redshirted, but what were some of the aspects you focused on during that time to improve?

A: I just tried to get better at everything. I worked on my defense, skill work, strength, academics, everything. One benefit I got from sitting out was viewing the game from a different perspective. Being a part of a team but not being able to play allows you to focus on aspects of the game you normally wouldn’t be able to in the heat of the game. 

Q: What is your greatest attribute on the court?

A: I would say my ability to score and my passion for the game. Obviously scoring can have a huge impact on the court, and has come out in flashes this year, but my passion for playing this game and going to war with my teammates is a much greater feeling. 

Q: What benefits did you take from your time at Cornell?

A: I learned a ton from my experience at Cornell. I learned how to manage my time and resources as a Division I athlete at an elite academic institution. I also learned how to be more independent away from my hometown, family, and friends. I learned a lot about being on a college team and how that dynamic works. 

Q: You were an elite scorer at Plum, where it seemed like you filled multiple roles, handling the basketball, but also playing the center position at times defensively. How did you handle all the responsibility your final two years for the Mustangs?

A: I definitely had more of a versatile role my junior and senior years at Plum. I handled that situation just by embracing it. I wanted to do anything I could to help my team be successful and win. I did a lot of things my junior and senior year, but I really learned in my senior year how to be a good leader and teammate. Coach Richards really challenged and empowered me to do so, and it really helped my confidence and benefited my basketball career in general. 

Q: What was your best high school memory?

A: Honestly there are too many to pick just one. There were a few games in particular that stand out, but just enjoying being an immature kid with my friends was fun, too. On a serious note, I talk with a lot of my current teammates and other college/professional players I know, and a lot of them agree that they enjoyed high school basketball as much or more as they do basketball currently. So if I could offer advice to players now, it is to enjoy it, because high school basketball is basketball in its purest form. 

Q: Do you still get a chance to keep up with former teammates and coaches from Plum?

A: I keep in touch with them a lot. I talk to Coach Richards on a weekly basis, just keeping up with the Plum season, and him keeping up with mine. Without him, I honestly would not have played college basketball at this level. Its a true blessing to know I still have the support from him and the Plum program that helped raise me and my brother. I also stay close with Coach Ron McNabb, who was an assistant on that team and is now the head coach at Knoch, where my brother coaches with him currently. Coach McNabb has helped me and my brother since we were in elementary school and we remain very close with him and his family.

Q: Who was the best WPIAL player you ever faced?

A: There were a few great ones. I would say the person I was most impressed with was my freshman year when we played Zeke Marshall of Mckeesport, who went on to play for Akron and was an NBA prospect. I was a scrawny 5-foot-9 140 pound kid at the time, so playing against someone of his size and athletic ability was pretty amazing at the time. I had a few notable battles with Geno Thorpe from Shaler and Micah Mason from Highlands. I never got to go against TJ McConnell, but it’s pretty cool seeing a guy like him representing the WPIAL in the NBA. 

Q: Once your basketball career ends, what is your ideal profession?

A: I am not completely sure yet. I know I am interested in staying in sports and possibly coaching, but my interests also lie in human resources, marketing, and music business. If I could get a job in HR for the Pirates, Steelers, or Penguins, that would be pretty cool. 

Q: What is your favorite college class?

A: That’s a tough one. Maybe Systematic Inquiry/Research Methods. I had professor who was very interesting and really challenged our beliefs on a lot of stuff. 

Q: Is there any particular song or group you listen to before a game to get you ready?

A: I listen to a lot of stuff, almost any genre you can imagine. I currently listen to a lot of Mike Stud, Bryson Tiller, Eric Church and Sam Hunt. 

Q: What is the biggest culture difference between Pennsylvania and Tennessee?

A: People dress up differently here, like girls wear full dresses and cowboy boots to football games. And people freak out if there is like two inches of snow. 

Q: Who is your favorite pro athlete currently and all time?

A: Currently, Pat McAfee. All time, either Jason Williams or MJ. 

Q: What is a little known fact about you or a talent that you have?

A: No hidden talents. I guess you could say that I am obsessed with wolves. And I have a fear of ostriches. Weird, I know.

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