By: Ethan Fuller
When the Patriot League abruptly cancelled the remainder of the conference playoffs less than five hours before the semifinals, Nia Irving’s college basketball career suddenly ended.
But a jarring conclusion does not erase four years of toughness and discipline. Irving was a mainstay in the Boston University frontcourt, finishing with over 1,000 points and over 600 rebounds. She outwitted opponents in the post and outmuscled them on the glass. She took more than her share of flying elbows, shoulders and knees, but would grit her teeth and focus on the next play.
The senior captain earned All-Patriot League honors three times and was a reliable leader as the program transformed. In her final year with the Terriers, Irving fought through a nagging knee injury and shifted to a leading reserve role, but still helped her team put together its best season of her career.
On Wednesday, Irving reflected on her time in a Terrier uniform, her personal growth, and the next chapters in her life.
EF: What’s different between your two years playing under Katy Steding and your most recent two years [under Marisa Moseley]?
NI: I would say there’s a complete change in our culture as a team. That was one thing that Coach Mo wanted to implement from the start — just making sure that everyone has been on the same page for these [two] years. I think that atmosphere helped us develop as players and really helped us all buy into the program.
EF: What is it about [Coach Moseley] that you think brings out the success that you guys had over these last two years?
NI: I just think she’s really relatable as a person. You can tell right away that she only wants the best for you, and she makes sure to take an interest in your life off the court, too. And I think that really helps her develop relationships with the players.
EF: Did her being an alumni help that connection too?
Yeah, she was able to relate to us because she comes from the same experiences that we’ve had over our lifetimes. She’s familiar with T Anthony’s, she knows all about the Boston Marathon and all that stuff. It was just easier for her to pick up on things we’ve already known and have done as a team since we’ve been here.
E: What was your bond like with the three of Payton Hauck, Lauren Spearman and Naiyah Thompson, as you had most of your career with them?
NI: We’re all extremely close; they’re some of my greatest friends. Lauren and I have been inseparable for all my years I’ve been there, and we’ll both hopefully be going to school in Atlanta in the fall. She goes to Emory right now and I just applied there for my MPH [Master’s in Public Health], so fingers crossed I get in. So yeah, we all have these bonds that make us inseparable, and I know that we’ll be friends for life.
EF: What’s the relationship like between you and Vanessa [Edgehill] because you two have shared this road together?
NI: We’re extremely close. There’s really no other way to put it. I don’t know what I would have done without having her as my teammate and my friend for four years. We’ve lived together for three years; we’ve literally spent almost every waking moment together both by choice and by force (laughs).
EF: You told me a bit about your knee injury in the fall, but I don’t know the extent to which you played through injuries this year. What was it that you had to fight through?
NI: I would say I’ve just had my fair share of adversity both on and off the court — having my knee, that has been a problem for the last couple of years now, and just trying to help that. And the trainers really helped me, whether it be shots or having rehab for it or getting work done on it on the road and right before a game — they really helped to ease some of the pain I was in.
EF: How much of a mental battle was that? As a senior you want to be on top, and then that’s something you can’t really control. What was it like for you to fight through that?
NI: At one point I was just in so much pain where I thought, for like a minute, that I was done because I was in so much pain — like I didn’t think I would be able to walk. It was after our Navy game [on January 22] that I think I tweaked it at some point during the game and it just hurt so bad that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” So that was a mental thing that I had to get over.
EF: Midway through conference play, the rotation changes and you come off the bench. What were those conversations with Coach Moseley like?
NI: Obviously it helps when we’re winning (laughs). Basically, whatever we were gonna do at that point to have us keep winning, I was down for. It’s not the way I initially pictured it, but you know, when you’re in second place in the conference, you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
EF: Looking back, on paper this is far and away your guys’ most successful of your four years. Did it feel that way for you — that this year was on another level?
NI: Yeah, I just felt like we were a completely different team then when I got here my freshman year. It’s so evident that the changes we’ve gone through have put the program in such a great spot, and they’re gonna succeed over the next few years as our underclassmen continue to develop. We just have such great leadership right now that I know the program is in good hands.
EF: Where were you when they announced the cancellations, and did you start to realize what was going to happen before it did?
NI: A day or two before, they said just to be prepared in case [the league] decides to shut the game off to spectators, and that you’re gonna have to call you’re family and tell them they can’t come. We were prepared for that, but then the day before the game they announced that it was still gonna be open attendance like usual.
So we were about ten minutes into shootaround and Coach called us over to huddle up and she said the league has actually decided they’re gonna cancel the rest of the tournament. It was a shock to us because we thought there would at least be a step, going from open attendance to closed attendance to cancelling. It just kinda seems like we went from zero to 100.
EF: How long did it take for you to process that it was over?
NI: The shock is settling off, but the next couple of days [after the cancellation] we were all just shocked by the news. None of us were really expecting it to reach that point, but as soon as we saw that other conferences were starting to shut down we knew nothing good was gonna come of this. But at the same time, it’s just about doing whatever takes to keep the mass amount of people safe.
EF: You mentioned briefly that you’re applying for your M.P.H. Is that the main next step for you personally?
NI: Yeah, so I’m applying to different programs to get my Master’s in Public Health, and Emory is my first choice. I’m leaning towards something in environmental justice, so making sure that people have equal access to clean drinking water, people have access to different food options, people who are living in food deserts and stuff like that.
EF: Do you have a next step planned for basketball, or is that something you’re at least putting on hold for now?
NI: I think I’m done playing for the time being. I still just can’t wait to watch the program over the next years and be a fan of them, cheering them on, and I’m already thinking about Alumni weekend.
EF: Has it settled with you that you’ve done four years?
NI: I mean, it’s still crazy to think — these four years have flown by — but it’s finally starting to settle in that I’m never going to play collegiate basketball again. And as crazy as that sounds, I’m also excited to look forward to the next chapters in my life.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.