I’ve been on several Zoom calls with players the last few days, and their bravery is amazing and inspiring. Some are on teams that don’t even know who they’ll play next week. No one knows how many games they’ll actually end up playing, as the season could be shut down at any time. They are literally walking into the unknown.
They love the game, and they want to play. I have to salute their courage, while at the same time sending them love and prayer.
It is not often, these days, that anyone sees Texas A&M guard Jordan Nixon without a smile on her face.
Whether she is posing for a picture in her uniform, bringing energy to practice or snuggled in a hoodie talking to a camera, the New York City native’s grin lights up the space around her.
Nixon is one of many newcomers on a dynamic, rebuilt roster that is running into the upcoming season with excitement and anticipation. The sophomore transfer from Notre Dame was recently named one of the top 50 impact newcomers by ESPN, and she is eager to play in a game again for the first time in more than 19 months.
But the road to Nixon’s newfound peace was paved with a lot of rough miles that included death, profound introspection and contemplation, and a foray into entrepreneurship. Even for a tough-minded city kid, the journey was often daunting.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut the NCAA season down last March, right after the Aggies had competed in the SEC Tournament. As cases in New York began to skyrocket, Nixon decided she’d stay in College Station and finish up her spring semester classes there.
But two weeks later, she got an unexpected call from her mother telling her that her high school coach at the Mary Louis Academy in Queens, Dave Edwards, had died from coronavirus.
“He wasn’t in the best of health,” Nixon said. “Once that happened, I decided, ‘I’m not going outside anymore.’ I realized this is a very real thing, and it happened very quickly.”
Within a week, the assistant principal and athletic director at the same school – Joe Lewinger – also died, at age 42, after being stricken with the virus. Nixon was rocked.
“I’m like, no way could this be happening,” she said. “Mr. Joe Lewinger and Mr. Dave Edwards were very special to me. The way they believed in me so much and always looked out for me. To lose both of them in the same week was just too much.”
Nixon’s mother wanted her to come home, but she balked at the idea.
“I was personally afraid to travel,” she said. “People were dying (in New York) by the thousands each and every day. I told my mom that I’d stay here and be fine, that I’d order my groceries. I knew others who had also lost people to COVID.”
But not long after, her great uncle died suddenly from a massive heart attack.
“He was like a grandfather to me, because he was a father figure to my mom,” Nixon said.
Her mother again asked her to come home, and this time she did, joining the legions of New Yorkers in store lines with masks on that had to be back at home before the citywide curfew began each night.
“It was crazy,” Nixon said. “It was crazy that it actually worked.”
In June she and many of her teammates became the first ones to return to school for voluntary workouts. Though she wanted to go back and felt it was the right decision, Nixon also had doubts.
“I was thinking, how are we going to regulate this, how are we going to make sure we’re all staying safe?” she said. “Maybe we’re around the people we’re always around during school, but who are they around? There were just too many question marks around COVID for me to really be comfortable at that point.”
“Seeing the portable morgues in New York and feeling the energy surrounding the pandemic really did a number on me.”
Nixon said some non-athletes at school shunned her at first, assuming she had the virus because she had just arrived from New York. But ultimately that didn’t matter, because she didn’t want to be around anyone else, either.
“Once I got tested, I could breathe,” she said. “It was an ongoing thing throughout the summer, which was great. It didn’t sit right with me that I could potentially give it to someone if I was asymptomatic. I may be able to overcome it if I had it, but I was thinking of the people closest to me.”
“(Head) Coach (Gary) Blair is older, and I didn’t want to put anyone in danger, so I took every precaution I could.”
Navigating virus logistics was especially tough on Nixon because of the challenges of the previous two years.
The McDonald’s All-American missed some games at the beginning and end of her freshman year with the Irish, due to injury. But ultimately, she decided the school wasn’t the right fit for her.
When Nixon visited the Texas A&M campus and met the coaching staff, it immediately felt like home. But for someone who had been playing basketball since she was six, sitting out 2019-2020 as per NCAA transfer rules was rough.
“Being a redshirt, you do all the dirty work,” she said. “You condition, you practice, you do community service, but you can’t play in games…..it’s stressful because you’re a part, but not fully a part. You can’t be a part of the heat of those game moments.”
Nixon said no one goes into their college career thinking that it won’t work out, and that they’ll transfer.
“You go on your visit and you get that feeling: this is home, this is where I want to be, these are my people,” she said. “Once all of that gets flipped on its head it’s like, what now? I had to uproot myself again.”
“Running from a turbulent freshman season to my redshirt year to COVID was rough.”
Seeing the pandemic unfold in conjunction with nationwide protests against social injustice deeply affected Nixon. A self-described thinker, she said the events of 2020, in particular, have expanded her perspective on life.
“I think this season just means more,” Nixon said. “In the shadow of (Edwards’ and Lewinger’s) deaths, it gives me personally, and this team as well, more. There’s so much going on around us. And while basketball is always important and while I will always love it, basketball is just a pathway to build our platform.”
“Yes we’re going to dribble, yes we’re going to shoot and yes we’re going to play this game, but we’re not going to be silent. I think that’s how we’ve all approached it.”
The team decided to do a blood drive for those with Sickle Cell Anemia – which disproportionately effects the Black community – last month. They issued a series of statements on the anniversary of Emmett Till’s death. They plan to sponsor five area families for Christmas, and they have a clothing drive in the works, among other initiatives.
“Our coaches are here for it,” Nixon said. “Whatever we want to do, they’re going to help us with it.”
Nixon also pushed forward with her own initiative over the summer. After what she called her low period, she launched her own clothing brand, “A Prblem,” on her 20th birthday in August.
In reclaiming the word “problem,” Nixon said she is encouraging others through her line of shirts, hats and more, to accept themselves as they are.
“After my freshman year and throughout my redshirt year, I felt like damaged goods,” Nixon said. “I felt like I wasn’t, I wasn’t. And after reaching a low point during the months of April, May, June and July, I wanted to pick up those pieces and make something tangible like this brand, and maybe inspire people who are in a similar position.”
”Being a problem is about picking up those damaged pieced and moving forward with whatever you have.”
Nixon took all the pictures on her website after rediscovering her love for photography.
“For a year and a half I was thinking, figuring out things about my environment, figuring out what makes me tick,” she said. “The camera just really brought me into a space of peace.”
Nixon’s newfound resolution has translated well to the court. Blair praised her for being a leader for the Aggies.
“Jordan gives us stability. I know that she can face any situation, any form of adversity and solve the problem,” Blair said. “She is extremely articulate and has an impact with her voice in the locker room, on the court and off of it. The ability to communicate to others while playing is a dying art, and Jordan has it. She serves others through leadership as well as anyone I have ever seen.”
Nixon’s approach is entirely team-oriented.
“Every day it’s more like, what can I give, what does my 100 percent look like today?” she said. “I like to describe myself as someone who can give what I can, and whatever that looks like on a given day, it looks like.”
“I guess that’s my role, is to do what my team needs me to do. And that sounds super cliché, especially with a team of 15 girls. We have incredible depth we each bring different things to the table. Wherever I can fit into that on any given day, I’ll be there.”
Though the team is stacked with newcomers, Nixon said Texas A&M has great potential this season.
“I truly believe in this team,” she said. “If we continue to work out the ordinary stuff, build that chemistry and stay in it for the long haul….we’re going to battle some adversity, but it’s about how we come together in those moments.”
The Aggies tip off the season Nov. 25 against Lamar.