Who We Are

Coach Sam Nichols guards a girl with a basketball

Coach Sam Nichols played to his strengths when he founded Basketball Smiles

Sam Nichols has a long record of maximizing the potential of the teams he coached and fostering players’ academic achievement, dating to 1972. Sam used the same building blocks that drove his successful 33-year coaching career to develop the non-profit program that he began in 1995 to help the at-risk children in the poorest neighborhoods in The Bahamas.

Sam began coaching high school women’s basketball, establishing 15 20-win seasons with 12 playoff appearances and a state championship in 1980. He coached 12 All State players and two high school All-Americans in basketball and three in track.

When he came to Abilene (Texas) High School in 1987, he turned his first-year record of 9 wins and 17 losses into winning teams from 1988 to 1995, with a district championship title in 1991-92. He tallied a 70 percent win record in his 21-year high school coaching career.

Sam began coaching at his alma mater McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, in 1995. Sam’s total of 199 wins at McMurry is more than those of the school’s four previous coaches combined in their 19 years. Sam had a career record of 637-300, winning 68 percent of his games, and is a member of the prestigious Women’s Basketball Coaches of America 600-Victory Club Hall of Honor.

Coach Sam Nichols and his team at McMrry
Coach Sam is the winningest coach in McMurry history.

In his last two seasons, the Lady Indians at McMurry finished 50-8. He was inducted into the McMurry University Athletic Hall of Honor in 2017. His teams broke more than 33 records at McMurry, where he coached four All Americans. Sam is proud of his players’ academic achievements, with 100 percent of those who remained in his program for four years earning their degrees.

He founded Basketball Smiles in 1999. In 2013, the East Nassau Bahamas Rotary Club named Sam a Paul Harris Fellow for “significant contributions to world peace and understanding” through his work on behalf of children through Basketball Smiles.

In 2007, Sam retired from 33 years coaching women’s basketball as the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach in McMurry’s history. Sam became chief meteorologist at KTAB-TV, the CBS affiliate in Abilene, Texas, that same year.

He has been voted “Favorite TV Weather Person” in the Abilene Reporter-News Reader’s Choice Awards multiple times and has also been awarded the “Bell” Award for outstanding media coverage of issues in education by the Texas Retired Teachers’ Association.

In 2019 Sam received the “Community Caring Award” from the Kiwanis Club of Greater Abilene for “bringing over 20 years of smiles and hope to undeserved students in The Bahamas” through Basketball Smiles.

Sam competed in Dancing with the Abilene Stars in 2018, benefiting Hendrick Home for Children, and was voted winner of the Best Costume Award. He performed with the Abilene Opera Association in the 2019 production of West Side Story, for which he was named “Hearts for the Arts Volunteer of the Year” for the Abilene Opera Association.

Sam earned a Bachelor of Science degree from McMurry and a Master of Education degree from Abilene Christian University. He holds a Mid-Management Certificate in School Administration and a Lifetime Teaching Certificate from the State of Texas.

Sandy Nichols, Coach Patty Johnson and Coach Sam Nichols
Sandy Nichols, Coach Patty Johnson and Coach Sam Nichols

Sam and his wife Sandy are involved in several local charities and are members of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee. Sandy is a member of the Basketball Smiles Board and treasurer of the organization. In their spare time, Sam and Sandy enjoy activities with their children and grandchildren.

Coach Sam Nichols
Coach Sam Nichols, founder of Basketball Smiles
Coach Sam Nichols with camper holding a basketball
Coach Sam and a Basketball Smiles camper

Honors and achievements

  • Winner and co-winner, American Southwest Conference West Division titles and winner, conference tournament championship. ASC West Division Coach of the Year, 2005-2006.
  • Ranked 11th nationally in the USA Today WBCA poll
  • Took three teams to the NCAA Tournament: 1999, 2006, 2007
  • Author of two basketball textbooks and professional articles
  • WBCA Board member for three years. The only non-Division I coach ever selected to sere as chairman of the Male Coaches of Women’s Basketball by the WBCA Board. Member, All-American Selection Committee
  • 1999-2000, team finished 24-5, “Sweet 16” NCAA Tournament appearance
  • 13 state high school play-off appearances. Won, 1980 State Championship
  • Nominated NCAA Division III South Region Coach of the year, 1999-2000
  • Successfully established Summer Girls’ Basketball Camps at McMurry
  • Helped organize and provide leadership for several nationally recognized basketball clinics and camps
  • Athletic Director and Summer Programming Director, McMurry, 1995-1998
  • Developed a successful marketing plan for McMurry Women’s Basketball
  • Spokesman, board member and television telethon host for various charitable organizations
  • Speaker for numerous civic and educational meetings
  • Conducts motivational/leadership seminars for business organizations
  • Lecturers regularly at basketball, educational and motivational workshops and clinics
  • Head coach of Athletes in Action 1994 Russia Tour and 1989 Africa Tour
  • Featured clinician, spokesman and consultant for Baden Sports

Coaches with Coach Patty Johnson and Coach Sam Nichols
Volunteer coaches with Coach Patty Johnson and Coach Sam Nichols, forth from right

Coaches volunteer their time and pay their own expenses

The camp is staffed by eight to 10 carefully chosen volunteer coaches from Texas and New Mexico who raise their own funds and pay their own way to attend. These experienced coaches work 12 hours per day on outdoor asphalt courts where the heat index is usually 104 to 108 degrees.

They build strong relationships with the children that let them speak into their lives, instilling character and life skills that will help them succeed.

Coach signs camper's T-shirt
A Basketball Smiles coach signs a camper’s T-shirt.
Campers feel coach's hair
Coaches teach campers self-esteem and respect for others.
Campers and coaches relax
Camper gets award
A camper receives his medal from Coach Sam.
Coach hangs net
Coaches do everything, from putting up the net to cheering from the sidelines.
Coach carrying balls
This coach is carrying basketballs the children will use during camp, but Basketball Smiles gives each boy and girl a ball of their own when camp is over.