The University of Richmond student body may be more familiar with Times Square than West Broad Street, but the Spiders are bringing a hometown hero to the Robins Center in 2021. Reigning Virginia 2A State Player of the Year Jason Nelson (2021 John Marshall High School) committed to Richmond over Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon. He is Chris Mooney’s second verbal commitment for the class of 2021 following Malcolm Dread.
Nelson was in house to watch what would become his top two schools battle it out in an overtime victory for the Spiders against Vanderbilt, their second win of the 2019-2020 season. However, a February win over VCU in the Robins Center left a lasting impression on Nelson. “The atmosphere was crazy, and, you know, I love big games. That’s when I show out. I mean, I show out any game but big games is when I prove my point,” Nelson said on Monday. He’s got the track record to back that up too.
Nelson has won a championship at every level he’s played at: EEYB, middle school, high school (state championships with Varina High School and John Marshall) and a national championship with Team Loaded on the Adidas AAU circuit. As a smaller guard, he has always played with a chip on his shoulder, trying to make winning plays and proving doubters wrong. “I’m a hard-working guy. I like to prove points a lot. If somebody say I can’t do something, I’m going to go try it and prove them wrong,” Nelson said. Sound like any current sub-six-foot guards at Richmond?
Staying home played a major role in the rising high school senior’s decision not to head to Nashville. Just like Nick Sherod, a product of St. Christopher’s, Nelson looks forward to having family nearby and staying true to his city. “It was definitely a big factor. You know, [with] everything going on, staying close to the family, that’s a good thing. The corona wasn’t the reason I picked Richmond, I just felt like I could fit there, fit the community better,” he explained.
Fitting the Richmond community does not necessarily entail donning red and blue. Mike Rhoades extended Nelson a scholarship offer to VCU last year, but the Rams did not make it into Nelson’s final two. Richmond recruited him hard and stayed in constant contact, touting its success with players like Nelson. “Richmond, they always kept it real with me since they first offered me. They always kept in contact, and you know, they love small guards and they always sent me highlights and what they work on,” he described, adding he felt he would fit the system excellently. Mentioning that few family or friends were pushing him to make the Siegel Center home, the Spiders seemed like a more natural choice throughout the process.
Nelson could pair with incoming freshman Isaiah Wilson as successors to Blake Francis and Jacob Gilyard. Despite being undersized, Nelson is a pesky defender with excellent anticipation. He can score at all three levels, but his penetration ability, especially in the pick and roll game, is where he thrives. Mooney’s Princeton-influenced offense will cater to that skill set, a factor that weighed heavily in Nelson’s decision. “That system really fits me. You know, I love pick and rolls. They let their guards play, and you know, I love when a coach says that,” he said. Nelson and Wilson could look to replicate the success of Gilyard, Francis and Grant Golden in the pick and roll game. Even with Golden leaving before Nelson arrives, junior Matt Grace has proven an apt screener and high-post passer, and incoming freshman Andre Weir brings a capable distribution and decision-making ability.
Just as Gilyard did his freshman season, look for Nelson to make an impact as soon as he steps on the court. While Wilson will have the advantage of playing next to Richmond’s all-time steals leader, Nelson said he has studied a lot of Gilyard’s game and sees many similarities in himself. The two-time state champ has the talent and proper skillset to slide into the lineup on day one. After a tough decision featuring headaches and sleepless nights, Nelson looks to be the face of Richmond basketball’s future, along with Isaiah Wilson and Tyler Burton.