Senior guard shooting through defenses

Senior guard Nathan Spehr drives through the University of West Georgia’s defense Jan.31. The Australian native leads the Lions in scoring with 16.2 points per game, assists (112), three-pointers (69) and 93.4 free throw percentage.

Anyone who follows the men’s basketball team has likely seen the number of international players on the floor. One of those players is Australian native Nathan Spehr.

Spehr, a senior guard in his fourth season at UNA, is from Adelaide, Australia and discovered basketball early in his life.

“My parents both played, so that exposed me to the game,” Spehr said. “(Australian basketball) isn’t really set up around high school basketball. It’s more set up in a club.”

Spehr played club ball as early as 7 years old and from there, he solidified himself as one of the better players in the country, he said.

“You play for a club and from the club team you could represent your state,” Spehr said. “I represented my state, then from there they select the junior Australian team. I was lucky enough to be selected for it.”

Former UNA player Phil Collins discovered Nathan Spehr. Collins, not to be mistaken with the artist who sings “In the Air Tonight,” is also Australian. He had basketball contacts in Australia who noticed Spehr’s ability.

Since coming to UNA, Spehr has left his mark in the record book.

Spehr broke the school record for single-season free throw percentage in 2014 at 91.2 percent, most consecutive free throws made this season, leads the Gulf South Conference in free throw percentage at 93.4 percent and is second in the NCAA.

Head coach Bobby Champagne said Spehr contributes significantly to the team and most notable is his ability to score from the charity stripe.

“He’s pretty close to automatic when it comes to free throws,” Champagne said. “It makes a big difference having him out there knowing about 100 percent of the time he’s going to knock down a free throw.”

Spehr not only leads the team in free throw numbers, but also leads in three-point shooting, assists, steals and points.

Aside from those abilities, Spehr is one of the leaders on the team, said freshman guard Jeff Hodge.

“(Spehr) is very positive and always has a good attitude,” he said. “When things aren’t going good, he’s trying to encourage others. The team needs someone like that. I’m picking up on the things he did, and I’m learning as I go along. So it’s great to have somebody like Nate.”

Spehr broke nose in practice in early February, but that did not keep him from playing. Instead, he chose to play with a mask, resembling the one worn by NBA player Rip Hamilton.

“Feb. 19 was the first night I didn’t wear it in two weeks,” Spehr said. “It was a relief to get it off. I was getting really frustrated, especially last week. It felt really uncomfortable, but I still wear it in practice – just in case.”

The Lions have one game remaining before the Gulf South Conference tournament, as they take on in-state rival UAH Feb. 28. Spehr started on the team that won the GSC championship last season and said he would love to do it again.

“That’s one of the goals we set at the start of the year,” Spehr said. “We didn’t get off to the best start and the eight seed isn’t ideal, but now all we need to do is win three games. We’ve had that mindset since we’ve been winning lately.”