Cavalier, Hawk, Knight and Bulldog

Published 7:46 pm Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nelson the Knight: Lakeland alum Jaleel Nelson, here in his senior season for Chowan at the CIAA Tournament in Charlotte this March, is playing for the ABA’s Seven City Knights and an assistant boys basketball coach at King’s Fork. Nelson scored more than 1,200 points in his CU career.

For the last few months Jaleel Nelson has been a college student, a basketball coach and a basketball player at the same time.

On Monday, Nelson, a Lakeland graduate and former Cavalier hoop standout, graduated with a Business Administration degree from Chowan. That accomplishment makes his daily slate a little easier.

“It was hectic. I was going from Suffolk, to Murfreesboro (N.C.) and back here for practice at 4 (p.m.) and to my own practice at 7,” Nelson said.

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Nelson, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward, starred on the hardwood for the Hawks for four years. He scored more than 1,200 points to rank No. 3 all-time in scoring in CU history.

“I was planning on going overseas, but I had to go back to school for one more semester so I missed the draft for international leagues in August,” Nelson said.

While home one weekend, he was told about a weekend tryout for the Seven City Knights, a new ABA (American Basketball Association) organization.

“It’s worked out to be the perfect way to stay in shape, get some exposure, get some people to notice and maybe network some. Maybe it’ll lead to a shot at the D-League (NBA Developmental League),” Nelson said.

The Knight tryout was over two days. The second day included a game in which Nelson had 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Nelson made the Knights and is starting.

Every Knight game could be promoted as Lakeland Cavalier Reunion Night.

Eric Ruffin, Travis Klink and John Lillard join Nelson in the Knight starting five.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s even better because all of us start,” Nelson said.

None of the former Cavs played together at Lakeland though.

“Eric graduated a year before (I got to varsity),” Nelson said. Klink and Lillard graduated earlier than that.

“The way we play together, people say it looks like we must’ve played together for a long time but this is the first time we’ve played together,” Nelson said.

“Definitely, we always reminisce about Lakeland, our coaches and how it all went, all the time,” Nelson said.

For a while, Nelson missed some of the preseason practices, especially on weekdays, because of classes at Chowan. He also had another important appointment each day.

During the fall high school basketball league, King’s Fork head coach Joshua Worrell, himself a Lakeland alum, talked Nelson into helping out as an assistant coach.

“At first I wasn’t sure,” Nelson said. “I had to make sure I finished school and I didn’t know if I wanted to go coach King’s Fork with being from Lakeland.”

“I got back to Josh a couple days later and agreed,” he said. Nelson’s an assistant for the JV boys team.

Coaching was something Nelson figured on getting into at some point, but probably more down the line and definitely not while still pursuing his playing career. He’s already in love with this new angle of the game.

“It’s a feeling I can’t describe when you teach or show a kid something, then you see them out there and they do it exactly how you coached it,” Nelson said.

Nelson felt that emotion on the first day working with the young Bulldogs.

“We were working on a defensive drill. I told this one kid, ‘you’ve got to snap your head and look like this, then when you put your hand out, you’ll get the steal.’ The next time he ran the drill, he stole the ball and he loved it. That’s when I said, I know I’ll like this,” Nelson said.

The Knights are off to a 2-0 start and scoring more than 130 points per game. The Knights are ranked No. 2 nationally out of more than 60 ABA teams.

“We get up and down the court. We’re very fast all over. That’s our game. If you can’t run with us, you can’t stick with us,” Nelson said.

Area sports fans who remember a few decades back into Hampton Roads basketball, recall when the ABA rivaled the NBA, especially the Julius Erving-led Virginia Squires of the early 1970s.

This incarnation of the ABA, founded in 1999, is much lower on the minor-league scale. It also has unorthodox rules.

The strangest rule change is the 3-D Light. When the 3-D Light is on, every field goal is worth an extra point and if the defense fouls, the offensive team gets one more free throw than normal. The 3-D Light goes on after a steal or turnover in the backcourt.

Other wacky rules include made shots from beyond midcourt are worth four points (five if the 3-D Light is on) and seven seconds instead of 10 to cross midcourt. In a double-overtime game, the first team to 10 points in the second OT wins.

“The rules are crazy. When I made the team they handed me a big packet and told me to read it,” Nelson said. “It’s definitely beneficial to our team though because we get steals in the backcourt and we pressure the ball all the time.”

The Knights play today in New Jersey. Their next home game is Jan. 8 at 5 p.m. At Churchland High School against the Georgia Knights.