Second-year guard Nelson embraces impact role on MRU men’s basketball roster
By Zafir Nagji, Staff Writer
The Canada West basketball season is officially underway and the MRU Cougars men’s basketball team have firmly established themselves as a powerhouse roster that is not to be taken lightly. With dynamic guard play, star talent, and impeccable coaching, the men’s program has gotten off to a 3-1 start as of Nov. 17. Thanks, in part, to the team flowing effortlessly on offense while locking up opponents on defense.
And, let’s not forget about the team’s breakout second-year guard and X-factor, Ijah Nelson, who has become the third star of an already talent-loaded roster.
Last year, Nelson had a phenomenal rookie season, being selected to the Canada West All-Rookie First Team and averaging just under 11 points-per-game while shooting 43 per cent from the field. However, Nelson couldn’t contribute at the level he wanted to at the season’s conclusion after he suffered a shoulder impingement which caused him discomfort anytime he attempted to shoot the ball.
“I feel like I let the team down last year with my shoulder kind of getting out early in that play-in game,” Nelson said.
“I spent the off-season doing any type of treatment I could. Massage and deep therapy, acupuncture, anything I could just to get my shoulders better.”
With a chip on his shoulder —no pun intended, Nelson entered his latest season with the Cougars hoping to make a splash and help contribute to the improvement of his squad. In the first four games of this season, Nelson is averaging four more points, two more rebounds and two more assists per game than he did last year. He also improved his efficiency by shooting four per cent better from the field and a whopping 10 per cent better from three-point range when compared to his rookie season.
“I think last year I was a little bit more patient, but this year I see the floor a little bit better. I’m getting more opportunities, I’m getting more shots up, I’m being more aggressive,” Nelson explained.
“I wouldn’t say it’s huge for our success, but I definitely think it’s a key factor. Just being aggressive to make it easier for the main guys like Holt [Tomie] and Kevonte [Watts].”
Alongside his larger role on the team came a level of responsibility to his teammates, who Nelson believed had the most significant impact on his explosion this season. Their confidence in each other, along with their confidence in Nelson, gave them an unshakeable swagger every time they stepped on the court. And, to Nelson, this has been crucial to their success.
“The guys have a lot more trust in me. They’re giving me the ball,” Nelson said.
“They’re helping me out and they’re confident in me. We’re confident in each other as a team.”
Even with this level of progress though, Nelson remains humble. Knowing that there is always room for improvement, he sees himself contributing to the team on a higher level than just on-court statistical excellence. This includes accepting the responsibility that comes with the expansion of his role within the team.
“A personal goal of mine is just to keep shooting the ball well,” said Nelson. “It opens up a lot for the team, more lanes to attack, and the defense has got to play closer up on me. So, it gives me an opportunity to attack, drive and kick for my open teammates.”
The Cougars will go as far as their stars will take them.
Between Holt Tomie, Kevonte Watts, and now Ijah Nelson, their three-pronged attack of dynamic guards can score and defend against the best of Canada West. Combined with their seemingly endless depth with Sixth Man of the Year Candidate, Thomas Teshome, incredible forward talent with players like Mawien Mawien, and unreal athleticism from players like Daniel Mulder, the MRU Cougars are ready to make their mark in this year’s Canada West conference.