Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Growing Up Freshman Nelson Travels Rocky Road to Help Point Gators to Indianapolis

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Growing Up Freshman Nelson Travels Rocky Road to Help Point Gators to Indianapolis

Article excerpt

GAINESVILLE --- The nicknames that stuck this season are Bugs Bunny and Hillbilly. Those who watched him last year in the tiny town of St. Albans, W.Va., called him the next Jerry West.

Jerry West, of all people.

So here's Brett Nelson, the University of Florida's freshman point guard with the frail body but imposing game, being compared to one of the best players in the history of the NBA because they're both from West Virginia.

UF coach Billy Donovan succinctly sums it up thusly: "Jerry West is the logo for the NBA, OK?"

This was Brett Nelson's world before he even stepped on the court for the Gators. Destined for greatness with no time to adjust.

Yet earlier this year, those same analysts became cynics, saying Nelson (6 feet 3, 175 pounds) was a bust because he couldn't break into the starting lineup for the Gators (28-7). He still hasn't in 35 games, but he has become one of UF's most indispensable players going into Saturday's national semifinal against North Carolina (22-13).

"You can't listen to what people say, good or bad," Nelson said. "Sure, I was frustrated. But I knew if I kept listening to Coach Donovan, everything would work out."

Whatever Donovan said, it's making a difference in March, where Nelson's emergence has been a key to the Gators' Final Four run. His scoring average is up nearly four points from his regular-season mark of 7.4 points per game, and he has hit 9-of-15 3-pointers in the tournament.

He's making big shots and key passes, and more than anything, he's playing with confidence again.

"He's got this Jerry West comparison, so immediately he's carrying this baggage," Donovan said. "It didn't happen as fast as many people thought. Maybe I was at fault thinking it would happen faster. But to his credit, he put total faith and trust in me.

"He said, 'Help me get through this. …

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