Former Salem basketball player hired as head coach

Jaelen Nice was driving from Salem to West Lafayette and he was talking to his dad on the phone to help make the drive less monotonous. The call was interrupted by another incoming call from his former coach and current Salem High School Athletic Director Hank Weedin.
It was a call that brought Nice’s basketball world full circle and in a sense made a dream come true. Weedin informed him he was the new head coach of the Salem High School boys’ basketball team.
“I got emotional about it,” Nice said. “It’s home. I go back to my last game there when we lost in sectional to Brownstown. I remember walking out and thinking that’s the last time I am going to be competitive there. I am emotional, but it’s also exciting and humbling.”
Nice said he knows there were a lot of candidates for the job and the fact that Weedin and the committee chose to hire him as a coach and that they trust him with the job is something he doesn’t take lightly.
“(Coach Weedin) trusted me when I was a player and invested in me as a person while I was a student and now he is trusting me to lead a program that’s near and dear to both of us,” Nice said.
“Life comes full circle. I have a lot of great memories in that gym. I’ve spent a lot of time in that gym with people I care about and made some of my closest friends.”
Once Nice got off the phone, he got back on the phone with his dad, Tim, who put it on speaker so he could tell his mom, Lisa.
“I called him and told him I got the job,” Nice said. “That gym was the last place my grandpa, his dad, saw me play. I know he was happy for me. He has always wanted to be a coach, but his schedule doesn’t allow it. I hope he can live through me, in a sense.
“My mom was there, as well. She was instrumental in my basketball journey. She taught me how to dribble and shoot. Those summers in the driveway she’d make me do my spelling words. I’d have to dribble to the word, spell it and if I got it right, I got to shoot. It’s just those things coming full circle for those two people who have invested so much in me.”  
After graduating from Salem in 2017, Nice played a year of college basketball at Anderson University. He then attended Purdue University, where he has spent the past two seasons as a graduate assistant working with the team. While he doesn’t have any experience as head coach, Nice does have plenty of coaching experience. He has spent the past two seasons with Purdue Head Coach Katie Geralds.
Nice said he has always had that inkling to coach, but when he finished that season at AU and knew his official playing days were over, he knew he wanted to continue to be around the game.
The inkling became a burning fire while working with Coach Geralds.
Nice said during COVID he would travel with the Purdue women’s team where he worked with other graduate assistants scrimmaging against Geralds.
“When it came full circle to me is when we were talking game personnel and we were scouting Iowa,” Nice said. “She was asking me my opinion on how we should guard Kaitlyn Clark. If you’ve watched her, you know there is no way to do that, but to have her, a Big Ten head coach value my opinion is a confidence booster. She would ask me what I think during games, too.”
Nice said his study of the game goes back to high school. He said he always wanted to watch as much film as possible to try to get any edge he and his teammates could.
Nice said he received some words of wisdom from Coach Geralds about coaching.
“She told me it’s one thing to have success as a player and it means something,” he said, “but having a player as a coach is a different feeling. I am looking forward to what that feels like for my own personal journey.”   
Guarding Clark may be comparable to the task that lays in front of Nice. He takes over a program that has won 10 games total over the past three seasons, including last season’s team that went 1-22.
The team has already started some workouts. Nice said he isn’t sure how much they will play as far as games this summer. He said he wants to do a mix of skill work and games.
“I don’t know how many games we are going to play,” Nice said. “I think we just need a lot of skill work and a lot of us getting to know one another.
“Of course they need live action, but they need to get to know me and I want to see where they are skill-wise and learn my coaching style. I just want to be in the gym perfecting what we are going to do. It’s all going to be so new, I don’t just want to throw them to the wolves.”
Nice said his coaching style is pretty even keeled, but he will get fired up when needed.
As far as coaching the student-athletes up, he can see a little bit of Coach Weedin and Coach Geralds in his approach.
“When it comes to finding my own style, I am very logical,” Nice said. “I am to the point that I am not going to ramble on about stuff. The kids are going to know where I stand and what I stand for from the get-go.”
The Lions will tip off the season Wednesday, Nov. 22, against West Washington.  

By George Browning
Leader Democrat Staff Writer


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