Six years ago, Nick Cartwright-Atkins didn’t imagine ever winning a state championship with Moorestown boys basketball.
He could hardly imagine playing competitive basketball at all.
“I was actually a wrestler,” Cartwright-Atkins said. “I wrestled in middle school. I think I was second in the state.”
After suffering a dislocated wrist during football season one year in middle school, Cartwright-Atkins decided to play basketball instead of wrestling since he’d be able to come back from the injury more quickly. After playing on the B team in middle school, Cartwright-Atkins continued to play basketball in high school.
“I had to convince him to keep playing basketball,” head coach Shawn Anstey said. “I heard after his freshman year playing basketball, he was going to try and wrestle.”
Cartwright-Atkins’ decision to play basketball was a wise one. He was the leading scorer on Moorestown’s 2019 Group 3 state championship team, putting up impressive point and rebound totals despite being matched up against taller opponents most games. Cartwright-Atkins’ big performances in Moorestown’s state championship run make him The Sun Newspapers Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“Nick brought a different energy,” head coach Shawn Anstey said. “He’s maybe 6-foot and he’s playing inside, scoring 99 percent of his points from inside the lane against guys who are five, six inches taller than him.”
“His athleticism, his jumping ability, his ability to finish just separated him, making him, in my mind, the best athlete on the court every game,” Anstey added.
Cartwright-Atkins noted he wasn’t always a dynamic player. He remembers struggling with ball handling and coordination when he started playing the sport. In eighth grade, Cartwright-Atkins played AAU basketball, which he credited as making a difference in his game.
“That’s where my talent grew,” he said. “You play against a lot of good talent over there.”
Making the successful transition to basketball is a testament to Cartwright-Atkins’ athleticism. He was an all-conference wide receiver for Moorestown’s football team and will play football at Division I Wagner College next fall. Cartwright-Atkins needed every bit of his athleticism on the basketball court as he played inside frequently against players who were considerably taller than him.
“We needed someone who could play inside-out, because we had good shooters,” he said. “We just needed someone who could score on the inside efficiently.
“I’d work on the inside, work on the inside,” Cartwright-Atkins added. “Then, when the other team would collapse, I’d kick it out and we’d shoot threes.”
Cartwright-Atkins led the team in 2018–19, averaging 14.7 points per game. His biggest contributions, however, came in the playoffs. In his final five games of the playoffs, Cartwright-Atkins had eight or more rebounds and also scored double-digit points in four of those games.
In the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship game against Ramapo High School, Cartwright-Atkins had one of his best performances, leading all players on the court with 13 rebounds while also chipping in 12 points. What made this feat impressive was he was matched up against Ramapo’s Neal Quinn, who was listed at 6-feet, 11-inches.
Cartwright-Atkins remembers Quinn look down at him before the opening tip. He also remembers how he reacted.
“They were playing music,” Cartwright-Atkins said. “They never play music before the tip-off. I just started dancing, because honestly, I was more relaxed.”
“He’s crazy,” Anstey said, laughing. “There’s this 6-foot, 11-inch guy and then there’s Nick dancing at midcourt.”
Anstey added Cartwright-Atkins always played with a smile on his face and a positive attitude. Cartwright-Atkins said he always tries to make sure he’s smiling throughout each day of his life.
“I can’t be mad,” he said. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play basketball. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play football. I’m a very spiritual guy; my dad’s a minister. So just to be alive every day puts a smile on my face.”
The memories of the 2018–19 season will always keep Cartwright-Atkins smiling. Realizing he may not play basketball on a competitive level again, Cartwright-Atkins feels the 2018–19 season was the perfect way to wrap up his career.
“We have a group chat, we’re still talking about it,” Cartwright-Atkins said about his teammates. “No matter what it is, we’re going to remember that.”