Column: Meek, Nick, and Russell: How Sa’eed Nelson plays like a superstar
A deeper look at who Nelson models himself after
In the AU men’s basketball team’s win over the Bucknell Bisons on Jan. 26, one thing was clear: the Patriot League is Sa’eed Nelson’s for the taking. Since lacing up for the first time in November 2016, the star point guard has started every game for the Eagles.
On his journey, he’s logged over 1,300 points, 300 assists and 300 boards. Among active players, Nelson ranks first in the country in career minutes per game at 37.21. He has to bring it every night, all night. And he does. But he knows the team isn’t done just yet.
“We want to be the best team in the league,” Nelson said after the victory. “We have to just keep coming out and competing. We’re in a three-way tie for third place and we play those two teams next week. We compete at all times.”
So what drives Nelson’s competitive spirit? Even the greatest model themselves after those they look up to. There’s no Kobe without Jordan. Stars are influenced by their heroes as much as anyone else. So who are these heroes? A quick look at Nelson’s Twitter account shows that, his heroes are Nick Foles, Meek Mill and Russell Westbrook. Let’s see how he draws inspiration from each.
Foles and Nelson are two Eagles cut from the same cloth. The former is a cult hero in Philadelphia for his heroics during the Eagles Super Bowl run last year. The latter has put the team on his back for nearly three years. Simply put, each shows up when they’re needed. There is no one that carries themselves better with everything on the line than Foles. Nelson is approaching this as well.
A team should be ready to go to war for their star, as the reverse has to be expected. When a player on Bucknell’s bench shouted some choice words at the Eagles late in the second half, it was a natural time for Gasperini to blow a kiss to the defending Patriot League champions. Good leadership and good basketball allow you to do that.
It’s hard to find a rapper that embodies toughness more than Meek Mill. His songs are gritty and his cadence gives him a larger-than-life aura. When others yell, Meek and Nelson roar. Nelson’s roar may not be heard on the court, but it absolutely can be seen. While Meek brings his hard hits to the studio, Nelson leaves it at the line. Nelson is currently third in the country in free throw attempts per game, and he’s first among guards. There are two players in the country that do the dirty work more than Nelson. If that isn’t roaring, I don’t know what is.
With the Westbrook comparisons, there’s a numbered avenue one could go down. One could talk about their cheetah-inspired transition play or their swagger-dripping handles or their herky-jerky at-rim finishes. But what makes a man? What makes these men? Ultimately, they – night-in and night-out – bring the kind of gravity that’s hard to find.
Nelson also makes passes that, frankly, he should not be able to make. Just look at this cross-court pass to Sam Iorio:
Because Nelson has so much shot gravity, teams like to clog the paint, especially when he is positioned at the corners. Temas also like to move closer to the paint whenever the ball is “trapped” in a corner because most players can’t make those cross-court passes. The problem with this is that Nelson is not one of those players.
Nelson looks up to those that put everything into what they do. It should be no surprise that he does the same.