The hubbub has died down a bit since the video went viral in late 2015, but every so often, former Maryland college basketball star and current St. John’s Edge rookie Jared Nickens is met with a quizzical look, followed by, ‘Say, aren’t you …’
The 6-7 forward was part of a top-flight NCAA DI basketball program, but Nickens may be best known for his role in the “Running Man Challenge,” the dance craze that started with a video featuring Nickens and Terrapins teammate, Jaylen Brantley.
“We ended up doing it, making a video, and it happened to go viral. We didn’t expect it, we weren’t aiming for it to happen. It just happened.” — Jared Nickens
The dance was actually created by a pair of New Jersey high school kids, who posted it on Instagram.
Nickens and Brantley discovered the post, and made their own version inside the Maryland locker room.
That video was also posted online, and it exploded the web.
“It happened in my sophomore year,” said Nickens, the North Brunswick, N.J., native, who would make three NCAA Tournament appearances throughout his four years at Maryland.
“Our locker room was full of clowns, uplifting kids,” he said. “We’d do stuff like that all the time… dance and have fun.
“I told Jaylen about it (the original video on Instagram). We ended up doing it, making a video, and it happened to go viral. We didn’t expect it, we weren’t aiming for it to happen. It just happened.”
With the dance blowing up on social media, the University of Maryland’s public relations and marketing department went to work, reaching out to various media outlets, and talk shows hosts like Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres.
DeGeneres bit, and Nickens and Brantley appeared on the “Ellen” show in 2016, along with the two kids from Jersey whose idea started the craze.
Later that year, Nickens attended at The ESPYs in Los Angeles.
“It was a crazy time,” he said.
Two noteworthy things came about from their appearance on “Ellen”: DeGeneres, known for her generosity, presented the high schoolers with $10,000 for their education. All Nickens and Brantley came away with were a pair of funny-looking dance shorts, with their names stenciled on each pair.
That’s because, as NCAA athletes, the two were ineligible to receive any “gifts.”
Secondly, as the two basketball players and two kids danced the “Running Man” to close out the show, Brantley flopped to the floor only to have Nickens pretend to apply chest compressions, all part of the playful act.
Turns out Brantley would transfer from Maryland closer to home to the University of Massachusetts. During routine physicals, it was discovered Brantley indeed had an undetected heart condition, and his basketball career was over.
“What a weird coincidence, huh?” Nickens said.
Nickens would go on to complete his four years at Maryland, finished eighth on the school’s three-pointers made list, 12th all-time in three-point percentage and seventh all-time in games played.
Following the 2017-18 Big 10 season, Nickens attended a pre-draft workout with the Philadelphia 76ers. He worked out last summer, and attended the training camp of the NBA G League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, an affiliate of the Houston Rockets.
After Nickens was released from the Vipers’ camp, a good friend of his reached out to another friend, Steve Marcus, the assistant coach of the NBL Canada’s Edge.
"The big difference is going up against grown men every night. This is their career, they’re playing for their families, and that means a lot more in terms of trying to produce on a day-to-day basis." — Nickens
The rest, as they say, is history.
“It’s been a real good fit so far,” said Nickens of his time with the Edge.
Entering a weekend series with the London Lightning, Nickens is averaging 8.3 points per game, despite averaging only 16 minutes per game. He’s shooting 41 per cent from the field, fourth best on the Edge.
“The only difference between college and this league is there are grown men here,” he said. “You have guys at all different ages.
“I played in the Big 10, one of the top five conferences, and the intensity in this league is the same. The big difference is going up against grown men every night. This is their career, they’re playing for their families, and that means a lot more in terms of trying to produce on a day-to-day basis.
“The level of play is quite high.”
Coming from the U.S., Nickens didn’t know a whole lot about St. John’s and Newfoundland.
“When you think Canada,” he said, “you think Toronto.”
For now though, he seems to have found a home, temporary as it is.
As for the “Running Man Challenge,” it appears to be making a comeback, thanks to the popular online video game “Fortnite” which introduced “Running Man” in its Season 6 update.
Perhaps it’s time Nickens and the Edge make another video.