Soldotna senior Nick Christensen has no problem thinking back to where it all began.
"I've loved basketball since I was in second or third grade, when my dad started working with me in the driveway," Christensen said. "That's one of my greatest memories of basketball -- my dad out there giving me pointers and teaching me basketball.
"I loved getting out there and practicing with my dad."
Since those formative years in the driveway, Christensen has gone through various stages of development and has emerged as a four-year varsity player and starter on this year's team, which has opened up the year with an 8-1 record.
Has played on Soldotna's varsity basketball team for four years.
Helped the team to an 8-1 record so far this season.
Is a sure-handed infielder for the Post 20 Peinsula Twins.
Is the student body president
Carries a 3.9 grade point average.
But even to this day, it all goes back to the driveway.
"Every move and every shot I have, I've worked on in my driveway," Christensen said. "I learn it on my driveway and put it into practices and games."
Christensen's father, John, coached basketball at various levels before Nick was born. He can remember his son tagging along to practices when he was 2 years old.
"Pretty much what you see with him is what you get," John said of his son. "He loves the game. He's a throwback to 'Hoosiers.'"
Besides the fact that once in awhile Nick's love of the game results in overzealous ball bouncing in the house, John is perfectly at peace with Nick's passion.
That makes sense because John also relishes pouring his time into the game.
Both John and Nick were interviewed at separate times for this story, but both termed basketball as their "hobby."
Nick used the word when asked why he shows up at Soldotna High School's gym before school every morning to work on his shooting.
John used the word when asked why he shows up as a volunteer assistant for the Stars varsity boys team.
After learning the basics of the game in the driveway, Nick and John moved their player-coach relationship to Boys and Girls Club basketball.
Nick excelled at the Boys and Girls Club and eventually made Soldotna's varsity team as a freshman. There, he was in for a bit of a surprise.
"I figured out I wasn't as good as I thought I was," Nick said. "I figured out I needed to learn a few more things to get up to the high school level."
Christensen found a worthy tutor in Soldotna varsity coach Ron Becker.
"Ron really is an incredible student of the game," John said. "He's taught Nick a lot of useful things about offense and defense.
"I've been around basketball for a long time and have known some good coaches, but even I pick up something new from Ron all the time."
Christensen said he began to feel useful at the varsity level near the end of his sophomore season. One big revelation that propelled him to success came from Becker's advice on the mental side of the game.
"One of the biggest things is staying mentally under control," Christensen said. "I had to learn not to mentally blow up because I'd missed a shot or made a turnover.
"The game never stops. It requires constant energy."
Christensen supplies that constant energy, not only in practices and games, but also on his own time.
Those who drive through Soldotna frequently have probably come upon him dribbling the ball while walking on the sidewalk or scrimmaging with friends on a playground.
"This is my 31st year coaching, and Nick is in the top five as far as those who have worked the hardest on their games," Becker said. "Think about that. 31 years. And sometimes I coached both boys and girls.
"That's a lot of kids."
Christensen said he works on a lot of things in the gym each morning, but he emphasizes free throws. He records the percentage he hits each day, and commonly hits his goal of 90 percent.
"Nick's work shows up most in his shooting," Becker said. "When he shoots, I think it's going in and I think the kids on the team are confident it's going in."
Despite the time he puts into basketball, Christensen still studies enough to carry a 3.9 grade point average. He said his parents, particularly his mother, Paula, have always emphasized that academics come before athletics.
"I had him in my U.S. history class," Becker said. "He did a report last year on the history of New York City and it was perfect.
"He's a perfectionist in what he does."
In addition to basketball and studies, Christensen also serves as the student body president.
In the summer, he plays baseball for the Post 20 Peninsula Twins and does field maintenance for Soldotna Little League.
Christensen said it has been his dream since seventh grade to play basketball in college. He said he has talked to several college coaches about realizing that dream, but as of yet he has not committed to a school.
"He's going to be extremely successful as he goes on in life and chooses a career," Becker said. "He's learned to work. Isn't that what high school athletics is all about?"
Christensen also is happy with where his relationship with basketball has led him.
"It's probably been one of the biggest influences in my life," Christensen said. "It's helped me stay out of trouble.
"Plus, all my friends play basketball and it's a good way to spend time with them."
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