Former USC Aiken point guard Re’mon Nelson left college on a high note. He had led the Pacers to the Elite Eight for the first time in the school’s history, and he was perhaps playing the best basketball of his career. He earned Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year honors and was named the Southeast Regional Most Outstanding Player for the NCAA Division II tournament. Then Nelson went through what he called the “slowest period of time ever.” However, patience paid off, and now the former Pacer is on the path to making his NBA dreams come true.
Since graduating, Nelson had been working with his agent trying to figure out the next move he needed to make to continue his basketball career. He had the option of going overseas to play in Turkey as well as a few other options. However, the process was moving slowly. Eventually, Nelson decided that the NBA Developmental League would be the best move for him.
“That was a rough period of time for me. It was the longest I had been home. I was working with my agent trying to figure out my options, but things were just slow,” Nelson said of the period of time win his next move wasn’t certain. “I was actually talking it over with my dad, and he was saying that the D-League was closer to my dreams. In the D-League, you don’t get paid as much as you would overseas, but it’s a better opportunity to be where I want to be, which is in the NBA. I decided to chase my dreams instead of chasing money.”
The move paid off. Nelson impressed enough people to land a spot on the Canton Charge roster. The team is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBADL affiliate. Nelson is the only player on the roster to have made it from the open tryouts.
“By just believing in my abilities and God’s plans for me, the opportunity really opened up on its own,” Nelson said.
Nelson was already familiar with the tryout process, having friends who tried out for the D-League in the past. The process is open to anybody who pays, but some of the people around the league were aware of Nelson from his college play and even called USCA head coach Vince Alexander. Nelson ended up as one of the players actually invited to participate.
“To be honest, I hate going through evaluation processes like that,” Nelson said of the tryouts. “It’s tough, to be honest with you. It’s just so much stuff, and then everybody is out there with their goals in mind, so they could be trying to shoot a lot. I’m just more used to an organized offense.”
Nelson did credit his time at USCA with helping him along the way. He mentioned that the four years spent in Alexander’s program really taught him discipline and to be tough, which is key.
The 5-foot-9 point guard prides himself on playing at a different level of toughness. He never shies away from going to the basket and even netted 109 rebounds in his senior campaign as a Pacer. He believes that tough style of play is also what has helped him transition into his new role. Nelson is the shortest player on the Charge roster, but he has the demeanor of some of the larger players.
“I honestly feel like I’m 6-foot-8. That’s how I walk around,” he said. “My teammates don’t let me forget about my size, but it’s not noticeable in the way that I talk and the way that I play. When I start to play, people start to say, ‘OK. He does deserve to be here.’”
Nelson has been soaking up as much information as he can over the past month from the coaching staff, which includes coaches with NBA coaching and playing experience. Head coach Steve Hetzel has spent time with the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. In addition, the staff features 12-year NBA veteran James Posey.
“It’s been amazing,” Nelson said. “I’ve learned so much over this past month. These guys have so much experience and knowledge; it’s great. For example, They’ll tell you, ‘Just go here on the court,’ then they’ll tell you why. And the reason is so smart it leaves you thinking, ‘Wow, I never thought of it like that.”
He added that the learning aspect of the experience is the biggest thing he can take from where he is right now and turn it into a greater opportunity to reach his ultimate goal of the NBA.
For now, Nelson is focused on honing his craft.
“I plan to continue to fight for more playing time. If I keep making the most of my minutes, the numbers will definitely come. I don’t have to stress about putting up big numbers.” he said. “Obviously my long-term goal is to play in the NBA, but honestly going through this process kind of changed the way I view things. I’m not going to go in thinking, ‘This is what I need to do to get to a certain point.’ As long as I’m working hard and trusting in God, I have faith that it will happen when it’s time.
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken in 2012 with a degree in communications.