Senior leads by example during breakout season

by Alanna Grady / Beacon Staff • February 9, 2012

In the world of sports, there are different types of leaders. Some are loud and lead by words, while others are more soft-spoken and lead by action.

Nathan Firn fits into the second category. On the court, he can be seen listening more than speaking. In person, he maintains a reserved manner when talking about his success.

In his final season with Emerson’s men’s basketball team, Firn has taken responsibility and become the team’s most prolific scorer. The senior forward has had a breakthrough year, with 257 points in 18 games. For the past three years, he averaged fewer than 10 points per game under former head coach Hank Smith and was third on the team in scoring last season. This year, he is averaging 14.4 points per game.

“Whatever role I’ve had, I’ve kind of just taken it,” Firn said. “This year my role was to score, so I did.”

Earlier in the season, Firn had a career high in points in an overtime loss against Johnson & Wales University, in which he posted 39 points and eight rebounds. 

According to his teammates, Firn’s dedication is part of the reason for his success.

“He’s an impeccable self-motivator,” said senior Drew Venter, a four-year teammate of Firn. “Nate’s able to get it done no matter what coach is there or what players are on the floor.”

The ability to adapt has been important for Firn, who has had to adjust to many different coaches throughout the years. The 6-foot-3 team captain from North Carolina sparked an interest in basketball in third grade, when he saw his first coach —his father Gregory Firn — shooting hoops, and decided to give the sport a try.

“My dad was a high school basketball coach and a community college coach,” Firn said. “He played basketball in high school and got hurt, so he didn’t have the chance to play in college. He never pushed me into it, but he was pretty hyped [when I started playing].”

Firn, who said he never took the initiative to be a scorer when he was younger, preferring instead to be a passer, has accepted the new role under head coach Jim O’Brien. According to O’Brien, his player’s work ethic speaks for itself.

“[Nate]’s one of a handful of players that I’ve ever coached that I have never had to get on about effort,” O’Brien said. “My only regret is that I won’t have more than one year to coach him.”

Firn has continued to leave it all on the court, even after suffering a serious injury. After being sidelined for four games with a torn ligament in his ankle, he returned to the court with six points in a win against Norwich University on Jan. 29.

And although Firn is 113 points back from reaching his 1,000th point, he says that the milestone isn’t that important to him.

“My dad would probably take the most pride in it,” he said. “It’s never been a priority for me because I never thought I’d have the chance.”

Though he isn’t one of the more vocal players, Firn leads through his daily performance, according to his coach and teammates. He makes a point to be the first one to run drills in practice.

“You can always count on him to be doing the right thing at the right times, to be giving all he’s got at all times,” said senior teammate Alex Yoh, a former Beacon correspondent. “Physically, he can get a lot of stuff done because of his skill set and basketball talent. He does so many things for a team.”

Firn’s humble way of leading his team differs from the methods of the boisterous, all-eyes-on-me captains in basketball movies.

“If I don’t want to hear it, why should I yell it at other people?” Firn said. “You see me hustling, you should hustle; you see me working hard, you should work hard.”

Off the court, the visual and media arts major said he enjoys working on different film projects.

“I wanted to be creative, so that’s why I came to Emerson,” he said. “If I saw it as work or a hassle, I wouldn’t want to go into this as a career.”

Firn recently finished his thesis for the BFA film program. He described the film, which he said took two years to complete, as a narrative drama called Benny, about a nine-year-old boy with an abusive older brother. He plans to use his network of Emerson basketball alumni when he travels to Los Angeles this summer, hoping to work as an assistant in a production company.

Yoh said Firn’s strong leadership has made him a reliable person to turn to in all circumstances.

“We always used to kid him about how he doesn’t have a whole lot to say,” Yoh said. “But at the end of the day, if you have anything to do, whether it’s in basketball or something in life, Nathan’s going to be the guy you pick to get it done.”