When John Niehoff, BS Accounting ’84, was finishing up high school in Springfield, Virginia, he knew he wanted to play NCAA Division 1 basketball, but he didn’t have any offers or a lot of money.
It just so happened that nearby George Mason University was starting its first year in Division 1, and it was within driving distance of Niehoff’s Springfield home.
“It was a hard first semester,” he says. “I was trying out for the basketball team, and I was literally a Washington Post paper boy delivering papers every morning.”
But the struggles didn’t last long. Niehoff made the team, playing for Mason from 1981 to 1984, and received a scholarship after his first semester.
“If I hadn’t gotten the scholarship, [my college experience] would’ve been a lot harder,” says the former point guard, who is now a partner at the accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly. “And I probably couldn’t have played basketball.”
That would have been a shame because Niehoff ended up distinguishing himself as a Patriot and was honored in 2008 as a Colonial Athletic Association Basketball Legend.
He is grateful for the education he received at Mason, both in the classroom and on the court. “The lessons I learned at Mason and in high school on the basketball court are as important to my success as the academic side was,” he says.
In fact, Niehoff has been very vocal about these lessons learned—among them, learning to compete, learning from your mistakes, and learning to take constructive criticism. He even shared these values on campus as a part of the School of Business’ Brown and Brown Distinguished Speakers Series. He joined Athletic Director Brad Edwards, Mason women’s basketball coach Nyla Milleson, and other alumni athletes in discussion in the program, titled “From the Basketball Court to the Boardroom.”
Niehoff’s ties to the university remain strong. In 2011, he was recognized by Mason’s Alumni Association with an Alumni Service Award. Currently on the George Mason University Foundation’s Board of Trustees, he also sits on the School of Business’ Dean’s Advisory Board. He is instrumental in the effort to support Mason’s accounting majors through the James R. Beers Accounting Scholarship Endowment, which recognizes Mason’s top performing accounting students each year, and as a contributor to the Phillip G. Buchanan Faculty Fellowship.
He is frequently on campus helping students connect with his employer Baker Tilly through internships and externships. “Accounting is very competitive,” he says. “We are always looking for the best, well-rounded students. Mason is one of about eight core schools we recruit from. Mason students are often a little bit different and have a little more work experience.”
And Niehoff’s enthusiasm for Mason basketball continues. A member of the Patriot Club and Green Coat Society, Niehoff and his family attend many of the men’s basketball games. They even followed the team to Indianapolis, attending every game of Mason’s historic Final Four run in 2006.
Some of his best memories of his time playing for Mason include games against the University of Maryland, Duke, and the University of Virginia during the Ralph Sampson days.
“That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up watching the ACC,” he says.
—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95
This article appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Spirit magazine.