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Nelson shoots for SBL championship before entering NBL
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Nelson shoots for SBL championship before entering NBL

NOT too long ago Marshall Nelson wasn’t wanted by his SBL club and then only three months ago he was so disillusioned with basketball he was considering giving it away. But suddenly he is one win from an SBL championship and has signed an NBL contract as a development player.

Nelson had come through the ranks at Kalamunda but when he wasn’t wanted at SBL level at the Eastern Suns, he thought that was it for him and the league.

It was only a chance encounter with Perth Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic that changed that and before he knew it, Nelson had become an SBL player with the Redbacks and not too long after that he was embarking on a college career at Wayland Baptist University.

When things didn’t quite pan out there for Nelson and in fact got to the point where for the last couple of months he wasn’t part of the basketball program at all, by the time he returned home he figured he’d play out the 2017 SBL season with the Redbacks and call time on basketball.

What Nelson didn’t bank on would be feeling so embraced with the Redbacks and having such a big impact on the floor that his love for the game would quickly return.

Now things have changed so dramatically in just three months from where Nelson was ready to walk away to the game that now he is one win from becoming an SBL championship player and is about to enter the NBL system.

Step one is this Saturday night’s SBL Grand Final when the Redbacks take on the Joondalup City Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.

Then once that is done, Nelson will be straight on the plane to join the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL where he has signed on as a development player for the 2017/18 season.

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Following the tough experience to end his college time at Wayland Baptist, it left a bit of a sour taste in Nelson’s mouth towards the game of basketball and he wasn’t really expecting that to go away just because he returned home and joined the Redbacks again.

But once he was back at the club, he immediately felt at home and his game had clearly gone to another level with him becoming a standout guard in the SBL in a team ready to contend for a championship.

However, even then it wasn’t really until he spent time in Illawarra training with the Hawks that he fully was won over that he wanted to give basketball the best possible shot that he could.

Now he is looking to do what he can to help the Redbacks win a first SBL championship since 1997 on Saturday night and then embark on his NBL journey with the Hawks where he can’t wait to play under hugely-respected coach Rob Beveridge.

“Things turned around really quickly for me and it just opens up doors for you when you can play a few good games and people start to take notice. Then the word starts to go around and it’s good that I came back and showed that I could play well straight away after not picking up a basketball for a few months,” Nelson said.

“It was the time I spent training with Illawarra that I really changed my mind. I saw the environment over there and saw how the guys are, and the level of competition. I felt like I could play with those guys and that’s when my mentality changed and I became more focused on going to the next level with my basketball.

“I am really excited to get away to Illawarra and be able to just focus on basketball, and improving my game and trying to make it to that next level. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do it if I put in all the work to get better. I’m feeling good about it and I’m really excited to get over there. Bevo is a great coach as well and I’m really looking forward to getting over there with him.”

Nelson didn’t fully grasp just how much success at the Redbacks means to a lot of people until he saw the reaction to them qualifying for the Grand Final by beating the Willetton Tigers last Friday night at Belmont Oasis.

He is now hungry to try and bring that championship back to the Redbacks come Saturday night.

“It would mean a lot to me and to the club, and to all the guys if we could win. We want to do it for guys like Joel Wagner, Ben Smith and the people who have been there for a long time. You want to win for them and you want to win for Nik and you want to win for all the people who supported. It would mean a lot to me as well if we could do it,” he said.

“I missed all the pre-season and the bonding and stuff the group had done but then when we won that game on Friday night I looked around and saw people with tears in their eyes. That’s when it really hit me how much it means to a lot of people and how big of a deal it was.

“Because I came in mid-season I didn’t really have a sense of the effort fully that has gone into it so it shocked me a bit but now that I have seen how much it means to people, it means a lot to me as well and I want to go out there on Saturday night to do my best for the team.”

Given the hurdles he seemed to continue to be hitting with basketball, Nelson was far from thinking the NBL was in his prospects by the time he returned from college.

But by the time he returned to the floor and started playing well in the SBL with the Redbacks and then he could measure himself against other NBL players while training with them doing tryouts, he realised physically his body could play at that level and that provided he played with some self-belief, his game stacked up well also.

“When I came back to be honest I had been playing basketball for so long and when some stuff didn’t work out over there, I was thinking I wouldn’t play basketball again. I was thinking I would play the rest of the SBL season and then that would be it,” Nelson said.

“I came back and I was a little bit over it because I just didn’t have the confidence in myself that I could make it.

“But the more I looked into it I thought that the gap wasn’t that big between me and some of the guys at the next level so I made it my focus to try and get my foot in the door of the right program so I could play with those guys and develop further. Before that I didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to do that.”

College didn’t turn out the way Nelson hoped even though there were some positives including the girlfriend he met there who he hopes to go back to visit soon. Despite the basketball side of it not turning out as well as he hoped, he did learn a bit from the whole experience.

“It was a good experience and I wouldn’t take back being there and getting to live that experience, and I had a lot of fun there. We had a great group of guys and it was sort of like a home away from home. Things didn’t quite work out how I hoped but I still wouldn’t take back giving it a go,” he said.

“What I have learned the most is how to be more composed and knowing when to shoot your shots, when to drive and when not to drive. Before that I was a bit reckless but I feel like I’m a bit smarter and more composed now with the way that I play. I think that helps me a lot and from training every day it makes you a lot better.”

Two people who Nelson can’t thank enough for helping him get to this point at the Redbacks as well is club captain and point guard Joel Wagner, and coach Nik Lackovic who have continued to be two of his very biggest supporters.

“Joel is a big part on this team and why I feel like I’ve excelled since I came back and have done better than I thought I would. He tells me to shoot it if I’m open and he’s always putting the ball in my hands and he puts confidence in everyone. He is so unselfish and he makes you want to be just like him and to have the respect that he has of everyone,” Nelson said.

“Nik has had a huge impact on me. I was playing at Kalamunda and they didn’t want to put me on the SBL team and then I decided I wanted to change clubs. I had never even looked into another club but I was playing in a 3-on-3 tournament and Nik was watching. He came and talked to me after it and a while later I was down at the Redbacks training and I’ve never looked back.”

Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)

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