He grabbed a basketball, dribbled baseline and pulled up for a 10-foot jump shot. Swish. Then another swish. Then another.
“Watch Re’ (pronounced Ray) here,” USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander said, standing at midcourt. “Here’s a guy who’s MVP of the league, player of the year, all-region. He’s working harder than anybody out there. Just watch.”
All eyes will be on Nelson when USC Aiken plays host to Belmont Abbey at 5 p.m. today in the first round of the Division II Tournament. How far the Pacers go in postseason likely will depend on the play of their all-everything senior point guard.
The 5-foot-7, 180-pound Nelson is built like a tank – his max bench press is 270 pounds. He’s in such good condition that when opponents start gasping for air in the second half, Nelson starts picking up his game.
Nelson came alive after halftime in a pair of comeback wins in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament. With USC Aiken down nine with four minutes left against North Georgia in the semifinals, Nelson swished consecutive 3-pointers. He scored 20 of his game-high 24 points after intermission as the Pacers pulled out the win in overtime. In the championship game against Montevallo, Nelson scored 16 of his game-high 20 points after halftime. USC Aiken overcame a 14-point deficit for a 65-60 victory.
“He’s the engine that keeps this thing running,” forward Santoine Butler said. “He’s been here four years. So he knows how to prepare, he knows how to win.”
“With my game, I try to come out and feed the big guys, feed my shooters to get them going,” Nelson said. “You never know when you’re going to need them. If I come out looking for myself first, then they’re not warm. So I try to get them the ball and get them confidence. Then at the end of the game if my team needs me to score, I’ll try to do what they need me to do.”
Nelson, an All-Southeast Region first-team member who was also named tournament MVP, said he was surprised to receive the Peach Belt Player of the Year Award. He cited his stats: 13.7 points per game (22nd in league scoring) on 45.9 shooting. But he also averages 6.2 assists a contest and owns the Peach Belt career assist record with 497.
“I thought it goes to the leading scorer or something like that,” Nelson said. “A lot of coaches around the league just felt that I pushed my team, I led my team and that I’m a good captain. I’m very grateful for the award.”
The 22-year-old Nelson of Columbus, Ohio, will graduate in May with a business management degree. He said he wants to play professional basketball before pursuing a career in the food industry.
“I want to own a restaurant,” he said. “I can’t cook, but I can manage it.”
Whatever he does in his future, he’ll likely be successful. Just watch.