Detroit's Nick Minnerath leading Titans after triumphing over hard times
5:35 PM, Feb 26, 2013
7:52 AM, Feb 28, 2013
DETROIT - Looking at Nick Minnerath now, it's clear to see a man focused, hustling, and intent on a purpose.
The Detroit Mercy senior forward has overcome the heartbreak of a torn ACL that ended his 2011-12 season, and has been a key factor in the Titans run for a second straight Horizon League championship.
But the rehabilitation back from injury is hardly the beginning of his truly remarkable redemption story.
Hard times at Nauset High
When Nick Minnerath was a teenager, he had the talent, he made the team, and he had the dream. He wanted to be a college basketball player.
He played two years for his Nauset High School team in North Eastham, Massachusetts before his priorities quickly shifted.
"Where I came from, basketball wasn't a big deal," Minnerath explains. "When it's not a big deal, things kind of fall apart."
He remembers skipping school regularly, getting involved in drugs,
He only finished one full year at the school, and failed out the next two. He broke his ankle his senior year after playing only sparingly during his junior season.
"Recruiting was 'zero.' I had no offers," he recalls.
The dream was dead.
"After high school, I had no thoughts of playing college basketball, or even going to college."
When the everyday grind of school was now off his plate, he found even more spare time then he had before.
"When you're not going to class, that's when it really snowballed. That led to even more serious drugs. People don't think it's gonna get out of hand, and the next thing you know, it's completely out of control."
He worked odd jobs around Cape Cod, driving taxi cars, staying up at late hours, taking any shift he could and running without a purpose.
"Day after day, you're in that position and you say you're gonna get out, and you never do."
Days turned to weeks. Weeks became months, which quickly became two years. Basketball wasn't even a thought. It was a distant memory.
"I was 19 and I felt like my life was already over."
Minnerath said things only got worse. The person he was becoming wasn't who he ever thought he'd be. But all the while, his family stood by his side, pushing him to grow; to change.
The road to change
Nick doesn't remember the worst moment of his life, he just knows he lost a drive and passion for anything in the right direction.
"It took a long time. I got tired of waking up every morning where I was at. I knew I had to make a change."
He picked up a basketball again, and his father's girlfriend saw what he had lost sight of for so many years. Standing at 6'9" with a boatload of talent, Minnerath belonged on a basketball court. He belonged at the next level.
So his father's girlfriend sent letters around the country, to coaches at all different levels. She knew he could play, and slowly, he believed in himself again.
To his fortune, someone else did, too.
"The coach in Jackson where my mom's family is from wanted to give me a chance at a junior college."
It was the only school that reacted to the letters. Back and forth via email, Nick discussed the possibility of playing for Jackson Community College and coach Steve Finamore.
"Nervousness, I mean I hadn't played in two years. I was working full time and went I went to tryout, it was nervousness for sure."
Minnerath drove out to Jackson, and in his words, "It worked out for the better."
After the tryout, Finamore signed him. On the spot.
All roads lead to Detroit
The dream thought to be impossible for so long was quickly re-emerging in Nick's heart, and becoming a reality.
"There was no question, once I drove out there, there was only one thought in my mind: 'I'm not every gonna go back to the position I was in before.'"
Not soon after his journey began again in Jackson, he caught the eye of Detroit head coach Ray McCallum.
"His size, his athleticism, his ability to shoot the ball, it was really intriguing, but when you sat down and talked with him and what he wanted, his focus -- as a coach that's what you want," McCallum recalls.
Two years at Jackson Community College saw Nick reach new heights. He was named a NJCAA Division II third-team All American, and left the program to take the next step in his life and career.
"Knowing the position I was in, and the opportunity, there was no way I was gonna let it slip," he says.
He visited UDM after watching one of their games against Butler on ESPN. He said he knew it was where he wanted to be.
Minnerath was an immediate impact player during his first season with the Titans. He started every game during the 2010-11 season, and was named co-MVP of the team.
Last season, he was a part of a group expected to contend for the Horizon League title. During the team's sixth game against Bowling Green, he tore his ACL. The injury ended his season.
"To go from playing to not walking for four months, I knew I couldn't take anything for granted."
He was given another year of eligibility by the NCAA, because the injury occurred so early in the season. The Titans won the Horizon League Tournament, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. But Minnerath wanted to be a part of the success on the court.
He came back more driven than ever, and this season, he's posted All-Conference numbers.
"We've just been having fun this year. The team that I'm on this year is probably the best team I've ever been on," he says.
After his basketball career comes to an end, Minnerath says he wants to take his story on the road. He wants to speak to high school students about the dangers of drugs, and how important it is to find a focus.
"He's a young man who listens to his parents, to his family, and we're sure glad he did," says McCallum.
That wasn't always the story. From the despair of sitting out two years without hopes of playing basketball, Minnerath has come a long way towards rediscovering his dream.
What would 19-year old Nick say to 23-year old Nick after seeing him today?
"I don't know if he'd believe how far he came, to be honest with you. But I'm sure he'd look forward to being in the position that I'm in now."
Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter