SAN ANTONIO – When Texas State basketball’s all-time leading scorer Nijal Pearson signed his first professional basketball contract last year, he never figured the start of his pro hoops journey would take him thousands of miles away — to two European countries within the span of months — in the middle of a pandemic.
“It was definitely a crazy experience. I started off in France, stayed from about August to January,” said Pearson in a Zoom interview with KSAT.
The former Bobcats star guard signed with Chorale Roanne Basket of the French Pro A league in May, and was excited for the opportunity to play in a top-tier league. But like many other pro sports leagues around the world, the 2019-20 Pro A season was canceled because of the pandemic. Besides not being able to play in many games, Pearson was away from his loved ones and baby daughter.
“It was a lot of practice and a lot of isolation when I was in France. I didn’t see my family. It was a lot of FaceTime,” Pearson said. “(France) had a curfew so I had to be in the house at a certain time.”
1/3 Former @TXStateMBB great Nijal Pearson (@NijalUno) talks playing pro ball overseas during pandemic, rise of @TxStateBobcats hoops in Sun Belt, relationship w/Coach Terrence Johnson (@tjjohnson1010) and youth camp he's hosting from July 8-10. @TxStateAlumni #KSATsports (Cont.) pic.twitter.com/47yQjTZbQ2— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) July 2, 2021
In January, Pearson signed with a professional team in Finland. The move gave him the chance to work more on his game and overall mental preparation, which he admits is the most surprising aspect of playing professional basketball overseas.
“Everybody at a professional level is a good basketball player so it’s the preparation. I thought I was really good at preparation in college, but it’s a whole new level,” said Pearson. “I thought I was a really tough player in college, but I had to find another level of toughness.”
Pearson also kept tabs on his old teammates and friends in San Marcos, including Texas State head coach Terrence “TJ” Johnson, who led the Bobcats to the program’s first-ever men’s regular-season Sun Belt conference championship.
“It’s a great accomplishment. I’m very proud of them and I tip my hat to him because they sacrificed a lot and went through a lot, especially through a COVID year,” said Pearson.
Their relationship dates back years to when Johnson coached Pearson in AAU basketball. Johnson was instrumental in recruiting Pearson to Texas State and helping him develop on-and-off the court. It blossomed into more than a player-coach relationship.
“We’re very close. He’s my daughter’s godfather,” said Pearson. “We clicked at an early age because I was a hard worker and he was a hard worker. He challenged me and I would challenge him.”
When Johnson took over the program on an interim level after the resignation of former head coach Danny Kaspar last September, Pearson knew TJ was ready.
“He’s ultra-dedicated. He wants to be the best,” said Pearson. “He wants to continue to get better and make the people around him better. He really loves what he does.”
Pearson also credits Kaspar for helping him get to this point in his career. Pearson broke the school scoring record after four seasons with Kaspar as his head coach.
He said he was not contacted by Texas State officials during the investigation into alleged racist comments made by Kaspar to former players. Pearson said he’s stayed in communication with Kaspar and recently “had a good conversation with him.”
“We’re doing well, me and him,” Pearson added. “I respect coach Kaspar and hope he’s doing well.”
During his time at Texas State, Pearson helped build the foundation for the current group of players who will look to repeat as conference champions next season and hopefully get into the NCAA Tournament. He’s still good friends with the current group of players and many other former teammates. He said the bond they’ve built over the years in San Marcos is something that will continue to be a part of him.
“It’s deeper than basketball and I feel like that’s why they respect me, why they constantly show me love,” said Pearson. “I’m there if they need advice or if I need advice from them, it’s two-way street. We’re just all good people, genuine guys.”
The connection to Texas State and San Marcos is the reason why Pearson wanted to start his own youth camp this summer for kids in the area. Growing up Beaumont, Pearson said camps played a key role in helping him get on a path that would eventually lead him to college and the pros.
“Camps are a great experience. You pick up information, meet friends and just compete for a weekend,” said Pearson. “Of course, we’re going to touch on basic fundamentals but also the mental aspect of basketball.”
Camps were also some of Pearson’s first experiences being around college players and coaches or just walking onto a campus.
“Just shows there is a way. If you stay focused and find your goal, and keep striving to do what you want to do, you can achieve it,” Pearson said.
This summer Pearson will compete with Kimchi Express in The Basketball Tournament 2021 (TBT). He also intends to return to Europe to continue his career overseas. The NBA is still a career goal, but Pearson is staying patient.
“I would love to play there, but I’m not going to turn down an opportunity. Europe is a place for me to continue to develop and play high level basketball,” said Pearson. “I’m excited to continue to play basketball and compete, and when the time is right, I’ll be there.”
Anyone interested in attending Nijal Pearson’s Bobcat Legends basketball camp from July 8-10 can find information here.