Miami Heat captain grieves for slain young basketball standout. ‘It breaks my heart.’

Malcolm Nicholas III, Mater Academy Miami-Dade All County Boy’s Basketball team, March 30, 2017.
Malcolm Nicholas III, Mater Academy Miami-Dade All County Boy’s Basketball team, March 30, 2017.

Malcolm Nicholas III was hooked up to an incubator for three months after his birth. Born prematurely, doctors warned his mother he was failing hearing tests and was likely to be a special needs child.

But by the time his parents were able to bring him home to Hialeah, his appetite was voracious. He grew up healthy, tall and athletic and became a local basketball standout.

His father, Malcolm Nicholas Jr. — a player under legendary Miami Senior High basketball Coach Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez — had previously mentored and befriended a young Miami High player who would grow up to become an NBA stalwart: Miami Heat Captain Udonis Haslem. Nicholas Jr. did the same for his own growing son, helping him develop into a promising player with college aspirations.

But Nicholas III, back in town from a Tennessee basketball academy for his aunt’s 50th birthday party, was gunned down just after sunset Sunday on an Overtown street. He had been visiting his grandmother. By the time police arrived, the 18-year-old basketball star lay all alone. No family or friends were nearby.

Three days after Nicholas was killed, investigators have little to go on. They are trying to determine if Nicholas was misidentified and shot accidentally or if he was killed for other reasons not yet clear.

“We don't know if he was accompanied or alone at the time of the shooting,” said Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. “No one is talking.”

Candice McMath-Dean, Nicholas’s 38-year-old mother, said Wednesday that she wasn’t even aware her son was in town. McMath-Dean, who lives in Miramar, said she’d been calling him for days and it was unusual that he wasn’t answering his phone or her texts.

“My baby wasn’t supposed to come home until next week for Thanksgiving,” she said, voice cracking. “Then I got a call Sunday. They said come to the trauma center.”

Nicholas, who was honing his skills at Believe Prep Academy in Athens, Tenn., and who had drawn interest from Eastern Michigan University and other Division I basketball schools, was walking near the corner of Northwest Fifth Street and Seventh Avenue at 7 p.m. Sunday when a vehicle pulled up and someone opened fire.

By the time police arrived, they said none of Nicholas’ friends or family were around. Still, news of his death sparked an outpouring of emotion and condolences. Miami Senior High’s Twitter account said they “lose a beautiful soul & gain an angel.” Believe Academy said “Our hearts go out to you. You will truly be missed.”

And Haslem posted a video montage on Twitter and Instagram of Nicholas shooting, dunking and making layups.

“This breaks my heart. I’m literally tearing up right now,” the Heat captain wrote. “This young man didn’t deserve this. He had his entire life ahead of him and basketball was his way out of this city. I’ve known his father all my life. I know he was a good kid. I know he kept his nose clean.”

Haslem later told the Miami Herald: “What can you say man, it’s that Miami lifestyle. You hear about people getting killed all the time and different things happening in the inner city. We got to figure out something. I thought it was bad when I was growing up. I thought it couldn’t get any worse and now it continues to get worse and worse and worse.”

Nicholas was born to McMath-Dean and Malcolm Nicholas Jr., on Dec. 19, 1998, at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was very much under weight after a six-month pregnancy, his mom said. The parents never married and by 2001, the child’s father won his custody.

McMath-Dean said she saw her son on weekends, holidays, during summer vacations and on birthdays. She said she was a constant presence in his life up until his death, speaking with or texting him daily.

Nicholas III attended Barbara Hawkins Elementary in Miami Gardens and began gravitating toward basketball when he was 11 or 12 years old. He loved to ride bikes, play video games and dance. By the time he reached Miami High, Nicholas III was a local basketball star. He later transferred to Mater Academy where as a senior he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds a game and was named to the Miami Herald’s All-Dade first team in division 9A-7A.

From there, Nicholas III went on to a post-graduate basketball academy called Believe Prep in Tennessee. He thrived there as well, getting looks from several Division I basketball programs until his death. McMath-Dean said her son attended the Tennessee school because his father had connections there and it was easy to keep an eye on him.

Nicholas III’s father also attended Miami High when Rodriguez was the coach. Haslem, who said he’s known Nicholas Jr. all of his life, was a few years behind. Nicholas Jr. is now the assistant principal at Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial High School in downtown Miami, a Miami-Dade County high school attached to the police department.

Rodriguez, who coached both the father at Miami High and his son at Mater, called Nicholas III “an absolute joy to coach.” The murder, he said, was “a huge loss to our community and for everybody.”

Said Haslem of the slain young man: “He was one of those kids that flew under the radar, but I was one of those kids too. You never know when you get into college and your work ethic starts to take over and you start to mature a little bit what his talent could have been. He never had that chance and that’s what sucks.”