Nelson making a name for himself as a sixth-man
Kyle Nelson is a senior for Amity, but the Nelson’s aren’t quite finished with Warriors basketball just yet. Kyle’s younger brother, Lance, is a freshman at Amity (12-6, 5-3), and he too is keeping the basketball tradition.
Lance isn’t just playing varsity basketball, he’s quickly becoming its leader.
In Tuesday’s 70-42 win over Willamina (1-17, 0-8), Nelson’s play was the spotlight of the Warrior win. Nelson finished with 21 points and six rebounds. Four days earlier in the loss at Dayton, Nelson led all Amity scorers with 18 points.
Nelson isn’t even a starter, he is the Warriors’ sixth-man.
“Lance continuously shows why he’s probably the best freshman at the 3A level,” Amity coach Justin Amaya said. “Lance has that ability that if you walk into a gym, you can tell instantly that he’s one of the better guys on the court. He’s a freak of nature, he can do it all, and the best part is that he’s very humble about it.”
The youngest of the Nelson family started playing basketball as soon as he could hold the ball, but he began playing organized basketball in third grade. He said what attracted him to the game was it was just something the Nelson family did.
“My parents played here at Amity,” Nelson said. “And with Kyle playing, I just grew up around it and really found it to be a fun game.”
Nelson developed a love for the game through watching local teams: the Portland Trailblazers and Oregon State Beavers.
Nelson said it was being at the Rose Garden and Gill Coliseum that helped determine his athletic path.
“When I was younger, my dad used to take me to Portland Trailblazer games and I would get to meet some of the players,” Nelson said. “And I always thought, ‘Hey, I want to do that and be like them.’”
Fast forward to late summer, early fall 2012. Nelson tried out for the Amity High School team. By the end of the week-long tryout, Amaya not only told Nelson that he made the team, but that he had a spot on varsity.
“At the end of tryouts, coach comes over and taps me on the shoulder,” Nelson said. “He says, ‘I got bad news for you, Lance.’ He looked at me real serious and said, ‘you’re on varsity.’ Boy, I was definitely excited.”
Nelson said playing at the high school level is quite an adjustment. As a 6-foot-3 eighth grader, Nelson was easily the tallest player on the floor. Now, at the high school varsity level, his size is somewhat common.
He said he is also facing more offensively skilled players, which forces him to work much harder.
“Everyone’s a better shooter and a lot quicker up here,” Nelson said. “I have to work on my defensive quickness, and it’s a huge step.”
Nelson showed Tuesday he is taking Amaya’s 1-3-1 defensive scheme seriously and starting to learn what it takes to be an elite defensive player. Nelson frustrated Willamina with four steals and six transition points. Amity forced 18 turnovers in the win.
The up-tempo game has also a work in progress for Nelson.
In middle school, Nelson played post and was restricted to the paint. With the Warriors, Nelson is a two-guard and is expected to score.
“We have plays that are designed to get to the hoop,” Nelson said. “But a lot of it is within the tempo of the game and it’s pretty challenging to learn.”
Nelson said because he was playing with bigger, older players, he was timid and afraid to shoot the ball early in the season, but Amaya and veteran players such as Zach Wilson, encouraged Nelson to be confident.
“He’s got such a good shot,” said Wilson, who scored a team-leading 19 points Tuesday. “At first he was kind of scared to shoot, but once coach got on him, and we started to encourage him to shoot, it’s like it clicked and now he’s one of our best.”
In Amaya’s unique 1-3-1 defense, the bigger players are in charge of the top of the key, and Nelson said that’s been a big challenge because his height and size doesn’t allow him to run from side to side as quickly as he’d like.
Watching Nelson play at the varsity level, he plays like a senior, he is comfortable with his teammates, and comfortable with his shot.
There’s still one thing Nelson wants to do, though, in the next three years at the varsity level: Dunk the ball.
“I want to dunk it,” Nelson said. “I want to dunk in a game, I just want to dunk it. There’s no cooler feeling.”
There’s also dribbling and finishing around the basket, Nelson and Amaya said, but he mostly wants to “dunk it.”
The biggest improvement Nelson wants to make is being skilled enough to play Division I college basketball, but there’s only one school he wants to impress: the Oregon State Beavers.
Nelson said it’s his No. 1 choice because.
“My dad’s a Beaver fan,” Nelson said. “And I’ve been to many games and the whole family is Beaver fans and it would be awesome.”
For now, Nelson remains focused in the present and is looking forward to the Amity-Dayton rematch Feb. 8 and the Warriors upcoming road trip.
“We’ve got to beat Dayton,” Nelson said. “We have to beat Westside. We just have to beat the teams we need to beat.”
Notes: Willamina shot 14-for-38 from the field. Tyson Jahn led the Bulldogs with 13 points and three rebounds.