An eighth-grader in the Schalmont Central School District, 13-year-old Nick Decker, has continued his studies remotely this week from Georgia as he’s joined his dad, Alan Decker, at work this week as part of the Decker’s Pondscapes team.
It is a week he will never forget.
The client, after all, is basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
Alan Decker is part of a team of award-winning artists working with Aquascape, Inc. from St. Charles, Illinois, on the project at O’Neal’s home in Georgia.
“We’ve actually teamed up quite a few times, in Australia and Africa together earlier this year, but for the Shaq build it was a pleasant surprise,” Alan Decker said during a phone interview from the worksite Wednesday morning. “When we were asked to do it, the one criteria was that I have to bring Nick, he plays basketball and he pretty much lives it.”
Nick Decker thought the offer was a prank.
“At first, I thought he was kidding. I laughed at him,” Nick Decker, a Rotterdam resident, said. “I was getting really bored. I just wanted to go somewhere. It was like a no-brainer.”
There was one requirement for Nick Decker to fulfill in order to go. A homework assignment — well, sort of — that his mother detailed.
“The owner of Aquascape, Greg Wittstock, his one requirement for Nick to go on the trip was that Nick had to read Shaq’s autobiography ‘Shaq Uncut’ and he had to come with some questions for Shaq,” Jodi Decker said in a phone interview Tuesday from Decker’s Pondscapes’ store in Pattersonville. “We ordered the book, and Nick read it in a week and got his questions ready.”
Alan and Nick Decker arrived late Monday night, began work Tuesday morning and then got a visit from the 7-foot-1 O’Neal — a former NBA MVP, four-time league champion and 15-time all-star.
“It didn’t feel real at first,” Nick Decker said.
When a picture of the Schalmont junior varsity basketball player and O’Neal was shared on social media, Nick Decker’s phone started buzzing.
“A lot of my friends were texting me,” he said.
The project at O’Neal’s home includes a 20-by-40 foot pond with more than 60 feet of waterfalls, including a fire pit incorporated on the side of the pond.
Alan Decker was named the 2016 Artist of the Year by Aquascape, and was joined by six other award winners from Australia, Canada and across the United States.
“Normally, you would do something like this over a two-week period,” Alan Decker said. “With the team we have, all are well-versed in what we do. It will be three days.”
For Friday’s reveal, Nick Decker has several prepared questions for O’Neill.
“One of my favorite questions will be, ‘When you first started your career and you first came to the NBA, how did it feel to be welcomed by all those veterans, older guys that were on his team already, and helping him evolve as a player,’” Nick Decker said.
With the pond dug out on Tuesday, Wednesday was dedicated to placing three tractor-trailer loads of stone in and around the pond. By Friday, the pond is expected to be full of life.
“I’m sure Shaq is going to hand-pick everything. There is talk that some stuff will come right from Japan, some Japanese Coy fish,” Alan Decker said. “There will be a lot of plant life. We build everything as a natural ecosystem. Between the rock, gravel, plants, and fish, it completes the whole natural lifecycle, that’s how you achieve the water quality.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.