The pressures of legacy could be crushing. Somehow, Nic Welp avoids such pressures.
Never mind that his late father, Christian, helped lead the University of Washington to the quarterfinals of the NIT as a senior before playing three years in the NBA. Or that brother Collin is averaging 13.5 points a game as a sophomore at UC Irvine.
“I wouldn’t say there is a whole lot of pressure,” the Seattle Prep senior said. “It’s mainly the pressure I put on myself. I want to play to the best of my abilities; be the best player I can be.”
The journey for the younger Welp, who will lead Seattle Prep into a must-win Class 3A regional basketball game against Spanaway Lake on Friday night at Sammamish High, has been a little different.
For one, Welp didn’t grow into his 6-foot-8 frame until later in life. As a freshman at Seattle Prep, he said, he was around 5-11. His brother is 6-9. His father was a 7-footer.
“I was short for my family’s standards. I thought I might be the odd man out in the family (as far as height),” Welp said. “But I grew four inches from freshman to sophomore year. I worked a lot in the post, using my post game.”
Smaller stature meant that Nic played guard. He played some point and could shoot it from distance.
Those skills make the now-big man a tough guard for many teams.
“He has range, and that’s an advantage for him,” Seattle Prep coach Mike Kelly said. “He gives us a chance to space the floor. He doesn’t allow other bigs to just protect the rim. He is our big. Everything we do runs through him.”
Then, for seven games in January and February, Welp wasn’t there to create those matchup issues for Seattle Prep (21-6).
It could have been worse.
“It’s still all part of the path I’m taking,” said Welp, who suffered a leg injury against Lincoln of Seattle on Jan. 7. “They thought maybe I tore my ACL. But the doctors said keep an optimistic outlook.”
It turned out, Welp had a stress fracture in his knee. Rest was the prescribed medicine.
During Welp’s absence the Panthers went 5-2.
Seattle Prep’s path to regionals has not been easy. The Panthers faced four loser-out situations this postseason.
Seattle Prep had to beat Lakeside just to get into the district tournament. As the No. 11 seed to districts, they had to win at Ingraham to get into the main draw.
A loss to Eastside Catholic meant a consolation run for the fifth and final district spot to regionals. Seattle Prep rose up to beat the KingCo 2A/3A champion Mercer Island and Bellevue on consecutive days to earn its spot.
“Our main theme is just wanting it more than the other team,” Welp said. “We have one goal. We all are trying to play for as long as we can.”
Welp will have a lot to say about which way it goes as the Panthers’ man inside. Before his dad suddenly passed away in 2015 at the age of 51, Christian Welp taught his sons about how to play the position.
“He taught it a lot better way than a lot of coaches,” Nic said. “He did this sort of big-man training. That’s where I got a lot of my tips from him. Things now I remember. Things I can use.”
The elder Welp taught footwork. The importance of timing.
But more than basketball, Christian and Melanie Welp instilled the importance of academics in their kids.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a basketball question from Nic’s mom,” Kelly said.
“Academics are first,” Nic Welp said. “I love basketball. Academics are what I do to keep doing what I love.”
As Nic navigates his final high-school season, he still has a voice to lean on, as well.
“I do a lot of talking with my brother,” Welp said. “I’d say I compare myself to him a little bit.”
Playing hard started early for Nic Welp, in part because of his late growth spurt. It‘s something Kelly saw, since he had a son that played in the same leagues growing up.
“Nic would play so hard for his dad,” Kelly said. “He was just wired a little differently. He was a little scrappier.”
Once he got to high school, Nic Welp said Kelly began reminding him of those days.
“Coach would always tell me he wanted to see the red-faced kid that he saw in middle school,” Welp said. So I try to work my hardest on the court.”
Welp hopes the work he is putting in will translate into a place to play in college, like his brother and his dad.
“I’m still evaluating my decision,” Welp said. “This is a season that can open up my opportunities. My main goal is to find the best school that works for me.”
Welp said he wants to study sports medicine somewhere, as he continues to play the game his family always has played.
“He’s the younger brother of a very good high school player, who is also very good in college,” Kelly said. “And the son of an NBA player who is a legend in the Seattle area. There is a pressure that other kids and families can’t always recognize — carrying the name Welp, playing in a gym overlooking the University of Washington. There’s some external pressure that you can put on yourself.”
Welp says that’s just fine with him.
“I do enjoy what my family has done,” Welp said. “It gives me something to strive for, something to aspire to be. With the path I’ve taken, I think I am doing my best. And it’s something I’ll keep trying to do.”