Tyler Nelson has done a whole lot in his basketball career so far. He was named the Massachusett’s Gatorade Player of the Year in high school playing at Central Catholic. Being front he suburbs of Massachusetts, he was able to make some big waves on the court. In his collegiate career, Nelson dropped over 2,000 points for Fairfield. Arguably the best to ever put on a Stag jersey. Leading his team all the way to a conference finals his Senior year before falling to Iona.
Currently, Nelson is in the G League playing for the Texas Legends after going undrafted in 2018. In this interview he shares his journey, the advice he’s gotten, and inspires others to put the work in.
What made you go to Fairfield to play?
But I played AAU basketball for BABC in the Boston area. Was recruited pretty heavily out of my high school from Central Catholic. I had like 10-12 division 1 offers mostly from mid-majors.
Then I just kind of narrowed my schools down in terms of education. Going to a school where I thought I would play a lot that was big to me. I didn’t want to just go to the best school on paper that gave me a scholarship. I wanted to go to the best school that fit me and I knew that I’d be comfortable with it. The team really wanted me so I went where I was needed. Obviously I feel like I made the right choice in Fairfield going there. You know having the career I did at Fairfield starting there all four years was a really good situation for me personally.
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At BABC you played with Bruce [Brown] or Aamahne [Santos]? Or any other players?
Yeah, so on my team we had Bruce Brown, Terrance Mann who was younger than me but were playing up. Bonzie Colson, Tyree Robinson, Johnny Joseph, Mike Rodriguez from Boston. It was like 8 or 9 of us. We were pretty good.
Your Senior year at Fairfield you averaged over 20 points a game. What made you take that leap forward?
After my Junior year, I averaged close to 20 (points). Going to my Senior year I knew I was going to be one of the best players in the league if not the best. So I knew the team was going to run through me on the offensive end.
I put a lot of work in that summer. And my coach kind of gave me the green light where I was the #1 option on offense and I could be really aggressive and take a lot of shots. I think that was the thing of getting that opportunity from your coach that believes in you and putting the work in.
Who was the toughest to guard in college?
That’s a good question. In our conference, Manhattan was probably the best defensive team. They pressed full court, double-teamed, trapped. It was like an AAU style. Playing against them was tough because they had really good athletic guards who would double team and trap you. During my Junior and Senior year I was pretty much the best player on my team so I was double-teamed. So every team was kind of the same honestly.
Who was the toughest to guard on BABC?
I would say Bruce or Tyree because they were so athletic, to be honest. They weren’t as athletic as they are now or developed the way they did. They were just so explosive with the ball and really good offensive players. So probably one of those two in the guard positions.
I’ve done some research and some would say your one of the all-time greats to play at Fairfield. Does that impact you in any way still today?
Yeah, I have a great relationship with the school and a great relationship with my coach. I’ve been there for 4 years. Made a lot of good friends and a lot of great memories. And obviously broke the school record with over 2,000 points. It is what it is. Some people say the best ever and some won’t. It’s just all opinion at that point. I’m just happy to have the experience I did and I love my experience at Fairfield.
When did you realize you could play in the NBA and not just overseas?
It was probably going into my Senior year I knew I was gonna have the chance to have a big year and do some great things. I think midway through the season I was averaging close to 25 points a game playing really really well. I was getting a lot of hype about that around college basketball and in my conference. Going into the MAAC tournament I played very well. I had 30 the first game.
We made it to the finals. I had a really good game. The next morning it was all over ESPN and stuff like that. That's when I knew I had a chance to play professionally.
When you went un-drafted in 2018, what went through your head?
I honestly didn’t think I was going to get drafted. There are a select few guys that really do get drafted. I had an agent at that time. So I thought there was a chance that someone would pick me up for the summer league. And then I’d have the opportunity to play a little bit there and see what happens after that. Whether I decide to go to the G League route from there or I decide to go to Europe. I decided the G League and that’s where I’ve been the last two years.
What made you decide the G League instead of overseas?
I guess it was a situational thing where I wanted to try the G League route of things. Because you never know, you can play well, get called up and get a 10 day or something like that. That kind of enticed me. I thought that was a pretty cool concept. I’ve always been competitive and bet on myself.
So I did it in the last year and a half. It had its ups and downs but that's the route I decided to with for my career.
What's been the greatest advice you’ve gotten since being in the G League? And who was it from?
I have a pretty good relationship with Gordon Hayward from the Celtics. I’ve known him for a while. My dad was actually a scout for Utah for 8 years from 2006-2012 around there. So when he was first in the league and I was in high school I kind of developed a relationship with him. We stayed in touch. When he came to Boston we became pretty close. We talk a couple of times a month.
Just talking to him about the ups and downs of professional basketball. Just gotta put the work in and don’t lose focus. You could be playing great one week and the next week you could not. You could be not playing one game but you could play a lot. So it’s just a lot of mental preparation.
Especially after seeing Duncan Robinson right now, he came from division 3 and transferred to Michigan. Pat Connaughton to who is also from Massachusetts. You just never know, so is that what keeps you going?
That’s definitely part of it. It’s a grind. At the G League level, you really have to work for everything. It’s more mental than it is physical. Because you don’t have the benefits of an NBA guy. You're not flying first class, staying in 5-star hotels, you're not getting a million-dollar paycheck. You really have to grind it out.
You're going city to city playing games. Rosters always changing. You might play 25 minutes one game then the G League team your on gets an NBA guy sent down from their roster and he takes your spot and takes your minutes. It’s a lot of mental frustrations you got to deal with but at the end of the day, it’s a grind. Part of the business.
Since turning pro, who’s the toughest to guard?
Theo Pinson and Frank Mason