Roberto Nelson's time to shine
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 05:11
After playing a game of pick-up basketball with his Oregon State teammates in September, Roberto Nelson stood near the baseline in Gill Coliseum and prepared to answer questions about the Beavers’ recent trip to Europe.
Or so he thought.
“Ask him about our FIFA game last night,” said Ahmad Starks, Nelson’s only teammate still in the gym.
Nelson glanced sideways at the ground, and then mumbled something like, “He got lucky.”
“5-2!” Starks fired back.
Flustered, Nelson mumbled something else before gathering himself enough to say that the only reason it was a big deal was because he had beaten Starks at the soccer video game the previous 20 or so times they had played.
Then he told me he was better at FIFA than any of his other teammates, as well.
I wasn’t surprised.
In January, Nelson told the media he was the best bowler on the men’s basketball team. In May, he confidently proclaimed that he and his teammates would beat the OSU’s women’s soccer team on the pitch.
I’ve also read that he picked up the sport of golf rather quickly, and that he was an all-state wide receiver at Santa Barbara High School and probably could have played Division I football.
And when told that head coach Craig Robinson deemed freshman Olaf Schaftenaar the Beavers’ best tennis player, Nelson calmly responded: “I’ll beat Olaf.”
Nelson is darn good at nearly everything he does — sports that do or don’t require athletic ability, video games, you name it.
“No matter what it is, Roberto is going to say he’s on top of that,” Starks said Wednesday. “Whether it’s soccer — even though he’s not the best at that, let me tell you — or FIFA, which he is really good at, he’s definitely going to tell you he’s the best.
“On the court, he’ll make a shot from anywhere. Trick shot, regular shot, anything. He thinks he’s the best guy for any job, and that’s just Roberto’s mentality.”
Starks swallowed his pride as he continued.
“He’s good at all the little stuff,” Starks said. “Anything you won’t think. He’s probably good at stuff like water polo, just anything.”
The only reason Robinson brought up Schaftenaar’s tennis ability was because he was trying to think of something that Nelson wasn’t the best on the team at.
“It’s hard to find something, because what he does is, if he’s not the best at something, he won’t do it again until he goes and practices and then he comes back and he is one of the best at it,” Robinson said.
We’ll soon find out if that sentiment rings true on the basketball court, where Nelson hasn’t been “the best” his first two seasons in Corvallis.
Once labeled a “program-changing recruit” by Sports Illustrated, Nelson hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations many had for him.
It certainly wouldn’t be fair to say Nelson has been bad, or even below-average — last year, he was a key contributor as the Beavers’ sixth man, scoring 9.3 points per game. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, scoring 19 or more points five times last season and 34 in a game against Arizona State as a redshirt freshman. And this came after he didn’t play the entire 2009-10 season because he wasn’t cleared academically.
But Nelson hasn’t been great, like he is at so many other things.
This year, with Jared Cunningham gone and Nelson stepping into the starting lineup, the time is now for Nelson to take his game to the next level.
Whether he likes it or not — he says he doesn’t care — Nelson will be under more pressure and scrutiny this season than any other Oregon State player.
If Nelson struggles, I don’t think OSU’s backcourt will possibly be able to replicate the success it had last year when Cunningham was scoring nearly 18 points per game. If Nelson thrives, I firmly believe this year’s team will be significantly better than last year’s team and will have a realistic shot of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Beaver fans can take comfort in the fact that Robinson said Nelson has “easily” been the Beavers’ best player in practice this season.
“We got a little better taste of it last year, but this year it’s like he’s taken the quantum leap that you usually do between your sophomore and junior year,” Robinson said. “We kind of always knew [his talent], but now we’re seeing it.”
Nelson has played tentative at times in the past. Knowing he wasn’t a starter, he probably feared that a mistake or two would land him on the bench.
That’s something I don’t think we’ll see this year.
“Maybe in the past with Jared being there, and him doing as well as he did, it was tough for me to go out there and have that freedom,” Nelson said. “This year, with him being gone, it opens it up for me.”
“I feel like he’s more confident than he’s ever been,” Starks said. “You’ll probably see the best of Roberto that you’ve seen.”
Nelson said his all-around confidence in everything came from his dad, who pushed him to play as many sports as possible when he was growing up.
He also says it has to do with a sheer desire to win.
“For me, I’m really competitive,” Nelson said. “When I pick up something new and I’m not good at it, even a video game, I’ll play the video game until it breaks until I get good at it.”
Judging by that, it’s no surprise Robinson said Nelson put in more work on the court this offseason than anybody.
Now it’s time for him to go out and beat the game.
Grady Garrett, managing editor