Chris Nelson, junior guard, leaps up to take a shot against the Tabor Blue Jays Jan. 13 in Stewart Field House. It is Nelson's first year playing for the Builders and has had an immediate impact, leading the conference in total rebounds. (Paige Carswell/Collegian photographer).

By Clinton Dick
Staff reporter

Many incoming freshman and upperclassmen transfers don’t have much of a story to tell about how they got to this tiny college in Kansas. That is not the case for Chris Nelson, junior guard for the men’s basketball team, who took a unique path on his way to becoming a Builder.

Nelson’s college career started after he graduated from Wichita South High School in 2004. He played varsity from his sophomore year up to his senior, by which time he was the co-captain of the team.

“I was a little bit more hard-headed back then so I had to learn a lot about discipline in high school,” said Nelson. “Our team had a lot of talent, but never really put it together. We didn’t make it out of the first round of sub-state.”

Nelson enrolled at Garden City Community College the next year to play basketball. That team immediately found success.

“We were nationally ranked at one point,” said Nelson. “We also won the conference championship for the first time in around 50 years.”

Due to financial issues, Nelson left school to work and regroup. He got a job at an amusement park in Wichita during the summer of ’05 and jumped around from job to job for the next two years.

“I was worried about making money and getting under my feet,” said Nelson. “I would go to the YMCA and work out a lot, and play in inter-mural leagues.”

Nelson got a break when Rodney Zinn, a man who Nelson regularly shot hoops with, asked him if he wanted to return to school.

“He was from around the Parsons area and knew the head basketball coach at Labette Community College,” said Nelson. “He called him up right on the spot and the coach remembered me because the year I was at Garden City we played Labette.”

He signed with Labette Community College in ‘07. Nelson attended school there last year and quickly found things to be different than his first college experience.

“There is not a lot of tradition there and they are not known for winning,” said Nelson. “They do not have a lot of money either so it is more of a place for opportunities to move on. I learned a lot from Labette.”

Tragedy struck Nelson’s family the ensuing summer when his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer.

“My grandparents took me in after third grade and gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had with my biological parents,” said Nelson. “It was good for me to be with my grandma and help her while my grandpa was going through his chemo-therapy.”

Today, his grandfather is recovering well. While he is still weak, Nelson says he has been making great progress.

“He just finished his last chemo-therapy a couple of weeks ago. He has been gaining a lot of weight, which is good because he has always been kind of small. Things are looking good for him.”

Matt O’ Brien, head coach of the Builder men’s basketball program, saw the talent that Nelson possessed and called him up. O’ Brien was coming off of his first year as head coach of the Builders.

“I heard about Chris when he signed with Labette Community College,” said O’ Brien. “The first time I saw him play was at a shootout in Coffeyville and I have been impressed by him ever since. I spent several phone conversations with him last year and could tell that he was mature and knew what he wanted.”

Nelson enrolled as a junior this year and became a work horse for the basketball team. At 6’2”, 170 pounds, Nelson is the tallest of the team’s varsity guards. He currently leads the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference in rebounds per game, averaging 8.63 per game.

“Chris is a competitor and wants to win,” said O’Brien. “He has been unselfish with his role on our team as it has changed almost game to game.”

His teammates see him as a player as well as a friend on a team that is very closely bonded.

“I feel like this year I have learned a lot about being a good teammate,” said Nelson. “This is the first team I have been on that I really feel like it is a family.”

Ethan Randolph, junior forward, agrees that the team is close.

“We all really like playing together,” said Randolph. “If it is Friday night and I need someone to hang out with, Chris is going to be the first person I call.”

Nelson is studying business management and hopes to open his own shoe store or work for Nike.

Nelson said, “I feel like through my life experiences I’ve seen ups and downs and I feel like you should always try to go your hardest.”

Clinton Dick is a sophomore majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail him at clinton.dick@sckans.edu.