(PETERBOROUGH) With a father who has been a coach for more than 20 years, basketball has always been apart of Matt Nelson’s life.
It also didn’t hurt that Matt grew to be six-foot nine-inches. As one of the most highly recruited players in the country, the Adam Scott Lions’ centre made a decision to stay in Canada and play for University of Ottawa Gee-Gees next year.
When deciding where he wanted to play, academics took precedence over anything else and Ottawa is where he was most comfortable. He also felt wanted immediately.
“They’re a young team with a new coach. I got along with the guys and (was) invited into the family right away,” says Matt, who will be studying Business Marketing.
“Everyone there would talk to me all the time with texts, e-mails, sending me videos. So right away I felt wanted.”
He’ll have an opportunity to make an impact as soon as he arrives and plans on being a defensive force in the middle by securing rebounds and protecting the paint. It’s the little things that separate Matt from the rest, notes high school coach Nick Sheppard who has coached Nelson since Grade 8.
“He’s always at practice, he’s always early at games, he’s always taking those shots and doing those little things in the game of basketball that you need to do in order to become successful,” Sheppard says.
“Working on his rebounding and taking shots from difficult angles. He’s willing to put in the time and the effort and anybody that does that it’s going to pay off. I’m super pumped and I can’t wait to go see him play in Ottawa.”
Ottawa shares the same excitement as Sheppard.
“(Matt) will most likely be the top ranked center who does not go to NCAA, and that’s a huge complement to our program as well as just CIS basketball in general,” says head coach James Derouin in a statement on the team website.
“Surely there will be an adjustment for him coming out of high school and transitioning to interuniversity basketball, but we believe that turnaround will be fairly quick for him.”
Being recruited wasn’t always something that Matt had to deal with during his high school career. Coming from a relatively quiet basketball area, he didn’t have much exposure despite being head-and-shoulders above the competition. In Grade 10, Matt made the decision to go and play with the Waterloo Wildhawks of the Ontario Basketball Association. He had gone to summer camps there and was invited to play on the team after impressing coaches. At first, Matt played on a team with guys two or three years older than him, so playing time was limited. But he took advantage of the chances he was given against a higher level of competition.
“I was the last guy on the bench,” he says about his first year with the team.
“I pushed myself harder because I only got four minutes of playing time and really had to go out and work hard. Not being a starter right away helped me push myself to get to that position. By last year and this year I’m a full-time starter.”
From that point on, the phone calls started and the offers for school visits became constant. Almost every school in Ontario was interested in acquiring Matt’s services. But it was Ottawa that prevailed in the race for Matt, and he couldn’t be more excited to get to campus and begin playing with the Gee-Gees. And now that he’ll be playing for them, Matt knows what a Gee-Gee is.
“A Gee-Gee is a racehorse that’s the first out of the starting gate,” he laughs, saying that was one of the first questions he had.
Seems appropriate for a player that will have an immediate impact.