In the spring of Jameer’s junior year at Saint Joseph’s University, he was invited to participate in the NBA predraft camp being held at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in early June. His name had been submitted by Saint Joseph’s University and then met with approval from the NBA committee for underclassmen.
Recent changes in NBA rules allowed college underclassman to participate in the draft. Once a player officially declares himself eligible for the draft, he can no longer return to play in NCAA games for his college. The rules also stipulated that in order to attend the predraft camp with the option to return to school, a player could not be signed with an agent. The camp works in two ways, one to have each player work with the other leading contenders for the draft to see how well they compare, and the other to have the NBA scouts take a closer look at each player. For the player, it means an all-expenses paid trip and an opportunity to compete.
In the time from completion of the camp up until about one week before the draft, each player who has not signed with an agent can make the decision to return to his former situation or to declare himself in contention for the NBA draft, which is held each year in late June.
Jameer decided to explore this opportunity and traveled to Chicago with assistant coach Monte Ross from St. Joe’s. By all accounts, he performed very well with seven assists, 13 points and no turnovers. He was included in the list of 11 players who got the best of play during their week in Chicago with this NBA report from Chris Ekstrand:
“The Numbers: 10.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 54.5 FG%, 87.5 FT%.
The Performance: Nelson, the fireplug point guard who was the engine of Saint Joseph’s offense the past couple of seasons, gave a fine accounting of his abilities at the camp. Those who had not spent much time scouting the Atlantic 10 in recent years might have been surprised, but East Coast scouts knew what Nelson would do: make the open shot when it presented itself, get his teammates in position to run the play correctly in half-court sets, and penetrate and distribute the ball with very few turnovers. Nelson basically answered all the questions any NBA teams might have about his game, all in the affirmative. The only thing holding Nelson back is something he can’t do anything about: his height (6-0). Nelson is a junior who can go back to school if he chooses.”
In the predraft camp, however, 2003 came to be known as the year of the point guard. Competing with Jameer was Boston College’s Troy Bell, who was Player of the Year in the Big East Conference and a second-team All-American. Troy drew rave reviews for his performance at the camp, with seven assists, 17 points and a tournament high of four steals. Several other point guards who performed well included Sasha Vujacic from Slovenia and Carl English from Hawaii. All had the advantage of greater height than Jameer, who was just a shade less than six feet.
Since the field of excellent point guards was large and there was concern that Jameer might not be tall enough to do well in the NBA, the word coming from the NBA scouts was that it was a possibility, but not a strong one, that he would be picked in the first round. Although there is a second round and then the possibility of individual tryouts with specific teams, only those who are selected in the first round of the draft are guaranteed a contract.
He consulted with a number of people who had been close to him, including family, friends and coaches, who helped him weigh the alternatives of NBA status and money versus getting a college degree and the possibility of setting new records at Saint Joseph’s. The first person he officially told was his Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, and the answer was yes, he would be coming back to school. Together, coach and player cooked up a little bit of fun and called for a team meeting. In Saint Joseph’s basketball office, Jameer stood in front of his teammates and declared to them that his decision was to go with the draft. According to Tyrone Barley, who had come on board the team the same year as Jameer, “We all bought it. Everybody sat there like somebody died.”
With precise timing, Jameer continued on and let everyone know his real decision – to return to play with them another year. In addition to lots of laughter, there were huge sighs of relief.
Jameer said: “At some times, I was almost there. But there were things I felt I could accomplish, as far as school and my team. I felt I needed to be a Hawk.” He later added: “You’re taking a chance entering the draft, and you’re taking a chance coming back. I wanted to make a decision because of me being happy. And I’m probably one of the happiest people playing basketball right now.”
Even coaches from competing teams who would have fared better had Jameer removed himself from college ball expressed happiness at his return. In November of 2003, coach Mark Few, whose Gonzaga team was scheduled to play against St. Joe’s the following day, said to Jameer: “Thanks for coming back. You’re special to the sport of college basketball.”
Jameer entered his senior year determined to have fun and take on the challenge of accomplishing an even greater season with his Saint Joseph’s teammates. In still another interview, he said: “What did it come down to? Whether I wanted to be in the real world or still be a kid.”
And no matter what happened on the basketball court, he and his parents would be proud that he would be earning a college degree.
“The Decision” would come to be known as one of the best ever.
Floyd “Pete” Nelson is the father of Jameer Nelson. Elaine Whelan previously wrote My Mom’s Making History – The Story of Computer Software, Copyrights and Creativity
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