The leading scorer in California high school basketball history, a Mcdonald's All-American, a first-team All-ACC player, the first undrafted player to start on opening night in the NBA, and a Euro-League legend. These are only a few of Demarcus Nelson's many accomplishments in his illustrious basketball career. Nelson grew up in the rough area of Richmond, California with a strong family around him. Becoming the leading scorer in California HS history was not an easy task and neither was his journey to becoming a professional basketball player.
The Beginning of His Basketball Dreams:
Nelson was born in Richmond, a historically rough city in the Oakland area. Nelson described Richmond as, “a very rough place, it was a little rough growing up, the things that we were exposed to, the violence, the drug activity, and things like that.” His parents’ main goal was to move their family out of Richmond and into a better situation for their family. By the time Nelson was in elementary school, he and his family made the life changing move from living in Richmond to moving to Vallejo. The difference between Vallejo and Richmond was major because it would give Demarcus a less problematic environment to focus on developing his skills on the court.
Everyone's beginning with basketball is different and for Demarcus, his journey into sports began as a babysitter for his parents. Nelson described the story as, “I started playing basketball just because I was a child with a ton of energy and I was driving my parents crazy around the house. So they just really just got me into sports, just to have me do something, just to pull out my energy.” As Nelson continued to develop his skills in middle school he realized that his skills were developing at a more rapid rate than the other kids around him. Nelson explained how his love for the game started,, “Once I started the training, maybe like sixth or seventh grade, once I started actually training, taking things more serious, that's when I really fell in love with it.”
The Battle to Be One of the Best High School Players in the Nation:
Playing basketball in the Bay Area is extremely competitive with players who wanted to go out and stop Demarcus every time he stepped on the court. Everyone knew who he was, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, and those who played him did not want to get caught lacking on the court to him. Demarcus played three years at Vallejo High and being a star highschool basketball player came before highschool. Demarcus explained the work he put in to take his skills to the next level, “As an eighth-grader, I started training extremely hard around the clock. You know, we’d get up at 5:00 AM in the morning, do physical training, then going to school, and after school, getting into the gym with my dad.” Demarcus wanted to be an All-American, the best player on his team, play college basketball and play professional basketball. Like Rome not being built in a day, Nelson’s goals were not achieved in one day. The Vallejo basketball team was not average, the team was so good that they had never had a freshman start on varsity, Nelson’s goal was to change that. In the three years at Vallejo, the team would battle every night and would be the main attraction in the town. Nelson described the feeling as, “Those Friday night lights that come on, everyone in the city is at the gym. All the games were sold out, it was really, really special.” As a teenager Nelson had adults, students, and children standing and waiting in lines just to see a glimpse of Nelson on the court. In those three years, Nelson would build a name, a legacy, and a story around his name in the Vallejo community.
In Nelson’s senior year he and his family would move away from Vallejo and into the Sacramento area. The move from Vallejo to Sheldon was not basketball related. Instead, it was for a better situation, away from Vallejo. Demarcus would attend Sheldon High School to continue his high school career. The team was well rounded without him and when Nelson transferred to Sheldon the stakes were raised even higher. Nelson described Sheldon as, “A lot of notoriety, a lot of media coverage, every place we played was packed, sold out, standing room only. It was really exciting for everybody, not only myself but for my friends and my teammates that I met there.”
One of his favorite memories came from two of his games in his senior year. Being born and raised in the Oakland area every team knew who Nelson was and wanted to shut him down. Nelson explained what happened in a game in the preseason of his senior year, “I think I had like 55 or I had a lot of points that game…They didn't double me they just put like a football player to play physical with me. I was used to teams doing that, so I was perfectly fine with the contact.” Then a few months later Nelson would meet them again in the NorCal Championship at Arco Arena. Nelson described the battle, “I knew for a fact that they were going to double me and they were not going to let me be the reason why they lost. So I told my teammates before the game, yo, I'm not going to do as much, you know, scoring as I normally would tonight. I said you guys be ready to shoot. Like when they double on the pass, be ready to shoot. They gave us a crazy game and they ended up beating us in the NorCal Championship.” Nelson is a competitor whose favorite moment came in a tough fought game in the Northern California High School Basketball Championship, where he battled to prove he was one of the best players in California and that he deserved to be a Mcdonald's All-American
At Sheldon, Nelson would surpass Darnell Robinson [the previous record holder] by 103 points to become the single record holder atop the California record books. When he thinks back he says, “ I think I just blew the record out and I should have probably scored around 3,500 or 3,600 points at the time. In high school, I was a horrible free throw shooter. I shot less than 65% as a guard, which is horrible.” Even 14 years later Nelson reminisces about what he could've done better as a player in high school. Even when everyone was amazed by his accomplishments Nelson's father was not always satisfied. Nelson recalled stories of his fathers expectation for his play, “There would be times where I would have 40, 50 points in a game and everybody’s congratulating me. Everyone's excited, then I go see my dad after the game and he's upset and he says, “You had 50, but you took your, you took your foot off the brake, you should’ve had 60, you should’ve had 65, like the last five minutes of the game, you just chilled.” which was true a lot of the time. And so he was more so just talking to have the killer mentality like the game's not over until it's over it. If you can, you know, go score a hundred.” Nelson's father was a major influence on the player Nelson was in high school, college, and today. The work to become a Mcdonald's All-American was not easy and his father pushed him to have the killer mindset he needed in order to be a top 25 player in his class and lead the state in scoring
In 2004, his senior year, Nelson’s sixth grade dream became a reality as he was named a Mcdonald's All-American an accolade given to only 24 of the best high school players in the entire nation. The 2003-2004 All-American game had future all-stars: Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Lamarcus Aldridge and multiple other future NBA players. Nelson details a story about not being named a starter by saying, “When they didn't name me a starter I took that personal and then the coach didn't put me in the game until midway through the game.. So I came in with a big, big chip on my shoulder.” According to BasketballRealGM, Demarcus was the second-leading scorer in the game, scoring 22 points and snagging five rebounds. He was close to outscoring J.R Smith but would miss a few free throws and a major jam to end the game. The 2004 Mcdonald's All-American game had everything: future NBA all-stars, NBA champions, NBA starters, and Euro-league players, like Nelson.
College Years at Duke, Filled With Challenges and Honors:
After a historical four years of high school Nelson had a decision, he had to decide where he would play college basketball. Growing up Nelson said, “I was an Arizona fan, you know, Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, and Gilbert Arenas. Watching those guys play, I didn't really like Duke, they were always coming on too late to watch.” Although he didn't like the idea of Duke he took a chance and visited. At Duke they showed him a video of Jason “Jay” Williams and his impact on Duke. Nelson goes on to say, “I just felt like I could have that same type of impact and it would be no better platform to have that type of impact.” Duke is known as one of the best programs in college sports history and Nelson wanted to extend that history by becoming their leader.
Demarcus chose Duke and had aspirations to play two to three years and commit to the NBA draft. Demarcus sadly would get injured multiple times at Duke and he describes those unfortunate events, “I got in a preseason game my first year I tore a ligament in my thumb and chipped the bone. That actually changed my shot a lot and how I shot the ball. I had a metal plate taped to my hand for that whole season. Then going into my sophomore year I got healthy and I was having a strong year … then six or seven games into that preseason someone rolled me over and I broke my ankle. Going into my senior year I was trying out for Team USA and I ended up breaking my wrist and I played with a broken wrist for the next four days, I made the team and was named a starter. Once they x-rayed and saw it was broken. They said get on the plane for surgery and that was the end of my team USA stint.” These unfortunate events-although catastrophic-shaped Nelson into the player he wanted to be, and in his senior year he achieved the honors of: Third-team All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, First-team All-ACC, and ACC All-Defensive team.
Nelson's Next Journey, The NBA:
The next step was for Nelson to finally commit to the NBA draft.After averaging 14.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg Nelson was hoping to be at the end of teams draft boards,after sall of his injuries, but he would not end up being drafted by any of the 30 teams. Although Nelson wasn't drafted, Nelson was signed by the Golden State Warriors on September 9, 2008, he would be the FIRST undrafted player to start on opening day. Nelson would talk about the experience to play for his hometown team by saying, “it was a great opportunity, I had my friends or family around, I thought I played really well and I was told by the organization I played really well and that they were keeping me for the next few years. I ended up getting hung on the business aspect of it and I very quickly realized that basketball at that level is a multibillion dollar a year business, some decisions had nothing to do with basketball.” Although a very short stint Nelson made the most out of his opportunity with the Warriors and would work his hardest to prove his worth. In the end business is business and Nelson would be let go by the franchise. Nelson was not released for not living up to expectation or acting out in his time with the Golden State Warriors but in some situations players and coaches are released without any real reason.
Overseas Recognitions and New Aspirations:
This would not be the end of Nelson’s name in pro basketball, Nelson would go overseas and would play for 13 different teams. Overseas Nelson would achieve the honors of All-EuroCup First Team (2014), Pro A champion (2019), Pro A Finals MVP (2019), French Cup winner (2019), Greek Cup winner (2015), All-ABA League Team (2014), 2× Serbian Cup winner (2013, 2014), Serbian Cup MVP (2013), and French League All-Star (2016). Outside of basketball Nelson has gained Serbian citizenship and built relationships with people outside of basketball in many of the countries he’s played in. Demarcus has still been planning on making a comeback to U.S. basketball by working in an NBA front office or coaching collegiate basketball. Nelson has reached out to his former coach, Mike Krzyzewski about his aspirations after his playing career and has already made connections in the NBA and college.
Follow Your Dreams With Focus, Hard Work, and Patience:
When asked what advice he would give to players on the same grind that he has been on since seventh grade he said, “I would just say there's a motto that I live by, hard work pays off and there's no goal that can ever be met without 100% focus. The fear of failure is a good thing and it really drove me to try to be as perfect as possible or as competitive as possible. If you're prepared … just talking to people and going to do whatever you want to do in your life, it's going to take time, extreme focus and a lot of hard work. Nothing's going to come easy. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to have shortcomings with all and just keep trying.” Nelson left high school as the leading scorer in California high school basketball history, he left Duke leading his team in scoring and steals in his senior season, he went overseas and he racked up every award imaginable. Nelson achieved these major honors not because he was the most athletic but because of his work ethic, patience, and dedication to the game that he loved . Demarcus was just another child from Northern California who had basketball dreams who didn't let his environment dictate what type of person and player he would become.