Incoming Indiana Basketball freshman Nathan Childress is not your typical recruit.
Childress isn’t ranked anywhere or in the database of major recruiting services like his fellow incoming freshmen Trayce Jackson-Davis (five-star recruit) and Armaan Franklin (three-star recruit).
In fact, Childress, who hails from Zionsville — just 70 miles north of campus — wasn’t even named a 2019 Indiana All-Star like Franklin and Jackson-Davis. Rather, he’s been flying under the radar for almost his entire basketball career.
By way of being undervalued, Childress will be a preferred walk-on for Indiana this winter. In this role, Childress will not receive any athletic scholarship, but has a guaranteed roster spot with the team.
Most walk-ons never see the floor, and Childress knows that, but he doesn’t mind. He just wants to do what he can to help.
“My role as a walk-on is just to make the team better every day in practice,” he said. “I’m going to go in and work hard and treat it the same way as every other player.”
Childress will be one of two walk-ons on Indiana’s roster for the 2019-2020 season. Vijay Blackmon will join Childress and as a senior for the Hoosiers, despite originally having his name in the transfer portal this offseason.
You might not know his name now, but incoming #iubb walk-on Nathan Childress (@nchildress13) is intent on making a difference this winter in Bloomington.
@YearyJackson writes, @rossabdellah with visuals ⬇️ https://t.co/2z70SE08a4 pic.twitter.com/YaawDiHNV3
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) June 14, 2019
Childress’ path to join the Hoosiers was slightly unorthodox, to say the least. He originally committed and signed to Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana — an NAIA school with a rich basketball history, including three national championships. The Zionsville native pledged to play for Bethel on October 21 last fall but then decommitted this past March.
On March 24, just nine days after decommitting, he accepted Indiana’s offer to be a preferred walk-on.
“I’ve always been a huge Indiana fan,” Childress said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was something I couldn’t pass up on.”
Childress had received little Division I interest throughout the entire recruiting process. Prior to committing to Bethel, Morehead State was the only Division I program to express interest, along with plenty of NAIA and Division II schools. After he had decommitted from Bethel, Valparaiso, another Division I program, reached out to Childress as well.
The lack of interest at the highest level could have been attributed to the fact that he broke his hand in summer of 2018, the summer before his senior year. The limited availability and college exposure for his last AAU season kept him as somewhat of a secret to college programs.
It’s unusual for a former NAIA commit to end up on a Big Ten roster — scholarship or not — but Childress isn’t your usual walk-on, either. The 6’6” wing has a great feel for the game and gradually saw his talent and production progress throughout the latter half of his high school career.
From his sophomore to junior year, Childress improved from averaging 7.7 points per game as a sophomore to 12.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game as a junior for Zionsville.
Childress attributes the advancements in his game to a change in his individual style of play from sophomore to junior year.
“Sophomore year I was kind of stuck in the post,” he said. “Junior year is when they switched me to the wing and it really allowed me to rebound better and just score and do what I was more comfortable doing.”
From his junior to senior year, Childress bumped up his scoring margin to 14.5 points per game, but also expanded his shooting ability. He added an outside shot to his arsenal, shooting about 36% from three on 59 attempts, compared to only attempting 11 three-point shots during the entirety of his junior year.
The noticeable improvements helped Childress garner All-Hoosier Crossroads Conference honors in both his junior and senior seasons while also helping Zionsville win two sectional titles in those years as well.
When watching Childress play, what stands out beyond the shooting and rebounding ability is his pure athleticism. He has great length and agility coupled with an impressive vertical.
He’s earned a reputation around the state as a ferocious dunker:
— Indiana Elite Metro (@INEliteMetro19) April 22, 2018
ISC’s Play of The Week goes to Video #4—
4) Dunk by Zionsville’s #24 Nathan Childress. Congrats!! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/44MzdwhTC5
— ISC Sports Network (@iscsportsnet) January 12, 2019
To Vote for this play for ISC Play of the Week comment 🏆 & Retweet to count as 2 votes.
2) Alley oop Dunk by Zionsville’s #24 Nathan Childress
Also keep in mind we are tallying votes on Instagram & Facebook pic.twitter.com/itLwlYV3cq
— ISC Sports Network (@iscsportsnet) March 7, 2019
Childress enjoys the fun of dunking but wishes to shift his focus of his game elsewhere.
“It’s part of the game but two points is two points,” he said. “There’s definitely more important parts to the game than dunking.”
Childress’ growth as a player in the last few seasons, combined with rare athleticism, is what separates him among typical walk-ons and is why he could have a chance to get legitimate playing time down the road for Indiana.
The athletic wing hopes to follow the path that former walk-ons around the state like Zach McRoberts and Purdue’s Grady Eifert have taken. Both McRoberts and Eifert earned consistent minutes and a spot in the rotation over their collegiate careers, despite not being on scholarship.
“That’s the goal, but I mean, going in I can’t expect anything,” Childress said. “I have to work hard and see what happens.”
Thankfully for Childress, he has two former high school teammates that have helped him prepare for being a walk-on at IU.
Will Alcock, a 2018 Zionsville graduate, is a preferred walk-on at Loyola Chicago. Alcock was the first person Childress called when considering taking the opportunity to be a PWO at Indiana. The two have already worked out together this summer and have focused on preparing Childress for the physicality of basketball at the Division I level.
Childress additionally was able to lean on a fellow high school teammate, Isaiah Thompson, now also bound for the Big Ten and committed to Purdue. Thompson, a scholarship recruit and Zionsville’s all-time leading scorer, played a major role in Childress’s development and preparation for what it will be like in his future role at IU.
“It really helped me play off the ball and that’s something that’s going to have to happen in college if I ever do get on the court,” Childress said.
Nathan Childress’ time as an Indiana Hoosier begins very soon. He traveled down to Bloomington on June 12 for a physical and went through freshman orientation during the two following days. After that, he will be settled in for workouts and practices with the team over the summer.
“It’s a dream,” Childress said. “It’s crazy, it still doesn’t seem real yet.”