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Jameer Nelson

December 14, 2003 Columns No Comments



Nelson Returns and Will Finish On a High Note

by Phil Kasiecki

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – Phil Martelli can’t say enough good things about Jameer Nelson. The St. Joseph’s media guide has no shortage of ringing endorsements by the head coach of his All-American point guard, and game after game he reiterates it in press conferences.

He’s not alone, either – even opposing coaches like Pennsylvania’s Fran Dunphy have high praise.

“He imposes his will on the game,” said Dunphy on Saturday after the Hawks beat Pennsylvania in the Big 5 Classic. “He just has such great knowledge of the game: his poise, his escapability is ridiculous – he takes it to the basket, there’s five guys flying at him and he sees everywhere.

“He’s terrific. I’m not an NBA guy, but I can’t imagine he can’t make a huge difference on somebody’s team. He’s a good guy, too – I just appreciate playing against him. He’s just a real good basketball player.”

Indeed, Nelson is a real good basketball player – one who changes games. He is also one who’s bound for the NBA, though he could have been there now if he chose.

Scouting Report:
Jameer Nelson
A quick and strong floor leader, Nelson has amazing body control and court knowledge. While many players get in trouble when they leave their feet in penetration to pass the ball, he rarely does, often making passes no one watching the game might think of. While that is how he changes games, it is also where he makes most of his mistakes. He uses his strength and great bounce to go in and get rebounds even at 5’11”, and is generally good on the ball defensively. Offensively, he doesn’t shoot the ball exceedingly well and is more of a scorer than a shooter. His decisions have continued to improve each season, and he plays with great confidence. Scouts have cited concerns about his size, but he more than makes up for that with his leaping ability and knowledge of the game. It’s early to try and project where he will be drafted in 2004, but it’s a fairly safe bet that he will go in the first round and can certainly be a lottery pick when it’s all said and done. – Phil Kasiecki

Nelson declared for the NBA Draft last spring. He knew he was good enough to play in the NBA, but he also knew that didn’t translate into being a first-round draft pick, which was the only scenario under which he would leave. So he didn’t sign with an agent, and along with Martelli – whom he talked to for hours every day during the process, and helped dealing with agents – tried to get a sense of where he would be drafted, worked out and went to the NBA’s Pre-Draft Camp at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Nelson played very well at the camp, running an offense as flawlessly as he usually does with the Hawks. But scouts had some concerns about his height – 5’11”. Nelson never got the guarantee from anyone that they would take him with their first round pick if still available, so on June 19, he returned to school.

It was the biggest day for St. Joseph’s basketball in the 2003-04 season, 4 months before practice even began. For Nelson, preparation began right then and there for this season.

“The first day I knew I was going to come back, I played five-on-five with my team,” Nelson said.

“Right now I am a college player. I have to focus on what I have to do here with my teammates and just try to accomplish things with my team.”

So far, the preparation and focus is paying off. St. Joseph’s is still one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball, as they don’t come up in discussions of the elite teams in the country, but the Hawks are a force to be reckoned with. Nelson leads a tremendous perimeter unit that has classmate Tyrone Barley (a defensive specialist who has suddenly become a three-point marksman as well), budding star Delonte West, and shooters Pat Carroll and Chet Stachitas. The Hawks aren’t deep up front, especially with sophomore Dave Mallon out until January, but Dwayne Jones and Jon Bryant hold down the fort.

The Hawks started off the season with a big win over Gonzaga, another nationally ranked team at Madison Square Garden. Nelson led the way, as he so often does, with 20 points and 10 assists. After the game, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few told him, “You’re what college basketball is all about”, a comment that any observer of college basketball surely echoes upon watching him.

“It made me feel special, because that doesn’t mean, me as a player, it means me as a person,” he said of Few’s words.

Martelli’s compliments about his point guard have no limit. It’s often said that a point guard has to be an extension of the coach on the floor, but he sees Nelson as being even more than that.

“For being so young, he has such great recognition of what needs to be done,” said Martelli.

“He could coach this team. He could flat-out coach this team.”

Amidst all the praise, Nelson likes to think of himself as a regular, fun-loving young man. He will remind you that even on the hardwood, he is still human – even if that may seem hard to believe at times. The sociology major, who isn’t sure what he wants to do after he’s done playing basketball, is humble, gregarious and enjoying the college experience. That, along with his relationship with teammates and Martelli made it easy for him to come back for his senior year. He loves his school as well, even if it’s not thought of in the same light as schools like Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina.

“The atmosphere is great at a St. Joe’s game,” Nelson said. “I think we have the best fans in the country. I wouldn’t want to play in front of any other fans in the country.”

The native of Chester, Pennsylvania also likes the Big 5 and is fond of its tradition, as well as the atmosphere of its games and especially those at the Palestra, where the Hawks also play several home games each year.

“Everybody was just having fun,” Nelson says of the crowds at Big 5 games. “Our crowd was doing our chants, their crowd was doing their chants. It’s just fun.”

He knows he is good enough to play in the NBA, and he will be there soon enough. He knows he made the right decision to go through the process as he did, and that the eventual outcome will bear that out.

“I went through the process like a man, and made a man’s decision,” Nelson said. “A lot of players don’t do that, they just see money signs and they understand they can be rich one day.

“I understand that I can be rich one day, too, but at the same time, I had to do what’s best for me and my future. And I think that coming back was best for my future, as far as school and athletics.”

What is best for Nelson is also what is best for his young son, as he is an eager parent. He looks forward to what is ahead in his young son’s future, and now feels more driven in everything he does because of him.

“I have to be a role model,” said Nelson. “I have to watch what I do, watch what I say, and just be more cautious of what’s going on in my life.”

If he approaches life like he approached the NBA, nothing but success should be in Nelson’s future, and it couldn’t happen to a better young man.

     

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