TRURO — Nick Minnerath was almost two years beyond high school when he and his dad, Michael Minnerath, drove from Truro to Nebraska to help his sister move in late 2007.
“I had been bouncing around different jobs,” Minnerath says. “It was November, and I wasn’t really doing anything.”
He and his dad decided to visit a local gym while they were in Nebraska. There, Minnerath wandered onto the basketball court.
“We went to some YMCA in Lincoln,” he says. “I was just playing pickup, and I was killing these guys. I hadn’t touched a ball in a year.”
When the guys at the gym asked Minnerath what college he played for, he felt embarrassed. He had never played college basketball. His last full year on the court had been his sophomore season at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham. He failed off the team in both his freshman and junior seasons; then, in the third game of his senior season, he broke his ankle.
Minnerath barely made it through Nauset, he said, crediting a family friend for getting him into work study programs that enabled him to graduate in 2006.
“After that, I had no direction,” Minnerath says. “For me, basketball was over, and school was over. We always hooped at the park like anybody else, just for fun, but that was the extent of it.”
He had fallen into a trap on the Outer Cape and was up to no good. He did get a construction job in town in the dead of winter, and the hard work proved to be a turning point in his life.
“That was torture,” Minnerath says, “and it drove me to want to go back to school.”
He found himself thinking about basketball again as he and his dad headed home from Nebraska to Truro, where Minnerath had lived since first grade.
He had always loved the game. He played a lot growing up and had a natural aptitude for it. Once he got to high school, he hit a growth spurt (Minnerath now stands six feet, nine inches) and his athleticism really showed.
Still, Minnerath admits, he didn’t focus on his game and routinely skipped school.
“There were no coaches giving direction,” he says. “I didn’t know any better at the time. Most people didn’t know any better, growing up on the Cape. No one was really going to college for sports out of Nauset.”
During his stint working construction, Minnerath says, his dad’s girlfriend tapped someone she knew in the college basketball recruiting scene and helped him send out emails to junior colleges around the country, seeking a tryout.
The coach at Jackson Community College in Jackson, Mich. was the only one who responded.
“It was just crazy, because my mom’s family was from Jackson,” Minnerath says. He had actually been there before.
It was time for another road trip with his dad. In February 2008 they drove 15 hours to Michigan, and, the next day, the basketball star-in-hiding was on the court for a tryout. It went well.
“The coach signed me on the spot,” Minnerath says. He knew he could play, but he also knew that he was untrained and far from reaching his potential. That fall, he went to Jackson to begin his first year of college and to start doing things differently.
“I was at a point of no return,” he says. “I told myself, ‘I’m going out there for a reason.’ I never skipped class, and I went to the gym every single day.”
He spent two years in Jackson, scoring 1,000 points for the team and earning a spot on the All-American Third Team on the court. He also earned an associate’s degree with honors in the classroom. In 2010, he transferred to the University of Detroit, a Division I program, for his junior and senior seasons.
In Detroit, Minnerath was one of the best players in his league and had hopes of getting drafted to play professionally. But in the fifth game of his senior season, a freak accident on the court took him down and destroyed his knee. He had torn both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
Beyond the “absurdly excruciating pain,” as Minnerath puts it, the injury presented “a massive mental test.”
Luckily, the injury had happened early enough in the season that he was able to extend his eligibility and replay his senior season the following year. In his final season at Detroit, he averaged 14.6 points (scoring 34 in one game) and 6 rebounds per game. He also earned a bachelor’s degree.
Though Minnerath had dreams of playing in the National Basketball Association, he was not selected in the 2013 draft. That didn’t stop him. He signed with Obradoiro CAB, a Spanish professional team based in Santiago de Campostela, for the 2013-14 season.
Thus began his career overseas. He has since played for multiple pro teams in Russia, France, China, and now South Korea, where he’s played for the Seoul SK Knights of the Korean Basketball League since June 2020.
Minnerath says he feels as if he’s found a home. “There’s a lot of American influence here,” he says. He hopes to play the rest of his career in Korea.
In 2015, he did sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA to play some preseason games, though he didn’t make the official roster when the season started. At the time, the Cavaliers included the best basketball player in the world — LeBron James. Minnerath played some team scrimmages with him.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is,” he says. “You’re just playing basketball. I did think, ‘I had this dude on my wall.’ But you have to put that out of your mind.”
Minnerath, who calls himself ‘The Cape Cod Kid’ on social media, enjoys a successful and lucrative basketball career overseas. But he values his first two years at Jackson Community College and his education the most.
“Basketball has been a platform for me,” he says, something he was able to use to get his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
With the rise of social media, it’s hard for basketball talents like Minnerath to go unnoticed the way he did. But he encourages players who don’t see their own potential to take advantage of any opportunity that might come their way.
“I know guys who made millions after they went to a Division II school,” he said. “Never turn your nose up at a Division II, or at using junior college as a platform to get to a Division II or Division I school.”
Minnerath hasn’t forgotten how asking family for help and taking himself and his education seriously changed his life. “Grow yourself,” he says. “Don’t wait for somebody to offer you something.”
Find more of Nick Minnerath’s story, in his own words, at The Cape Cod Kid Podcast on Apple Podcasts.