Joe Cotton saw former Sycamore center Scott Nelson throw his 6-foot-7 body on the floor when he watched him in high school, diving for loose balls for the regional champion Spartans. The Judson University men’s basketball coach knew he had a place for him on a team that was graduating most of its core.
Nelson’s propensity for working hard hasn’t disappointed during his freshman season.
“The things that we recruited him for, he’s just continued to maintain, which is his work ethic, his team attitude, and he’s always willing to sell out for the team and give his best effort,” Cotton said.
Of course, Nelson’s size didn’t hurt during his recruitment either.
And during his freshman season, his work ethic and size haven’t been mutually exclusive. The inch Nelson grew can be chalked up to luck, but now at 6-8, Nelson weighs 240 after adding at least 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
Without baseball to worry about, Nelson has been able to add weight specifically for basketball. He doesn’t have to worry about losing flexibility in his shoulder, which is important for pitchers, by building muscle. He also can concentrate more on agility that is crucial for basketball players.
“When you’re in the post, the biggest thing is having upper-body and lower-body strength, obviously,” the 2013 Daily Chronicle baseball and basketball player of the year said. “You want your arms to be as strong as possible, so a lot more lifting went into that, just strengthwise, not really worrying about form for pitching because that’s not a reality any more.”
Every pound of that added muscle has been necessary.
In high school, Nelson towered over many opposing centers and relied on his jump hook to score inside. In college, he’s had to adjust to playing against centers his size or bigger, and he’s worked on improving his footwork and developing more post moves.
“A lot of it is making smart moves, knowing when to pass, when to shoot, stuff like that,” Nelson said. “In high school, I was a little bit bigger than some of the other posts. Then coming to college, a lot of the posts are my size, if not bigger. So a lot of it is putting in the time and the work in the weight room, especially. These guys are stronger and quicker than in high school, obviously.”
Early returns have been positive. But Nelson suffered a knee injury and has been out the past three games. On a team that has eight freshmen, one senior and one junior, Nelson is averaging just more than 19 minutes, fourth on the team, while starting most games. He’s third on the team with 7.3 points a game and has made more than 50 percent of his field goal attempts.
In the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, which boasts three teams ranked in the top 17 in NAIA Division II, the young Eagles, who are 5-16 overall, have gone through growing pains with a 2-8 record. But like his young team, Cotton said he thinks Nelson has only scratched the surface of his potential.
“He’s a worker, and he’s going to put in the work in the offseason in the weight room to become the best college basketball player,” Cotton said. “I really think he can be an all-conference player in our league, and that’s not easy to do – we’re a 14-team league. … There’s no doubt in my mind that his best basketball is ahead of him, and the other side of that is that he’s a great student. I think he can be academic all-conference, academic All-American.”