Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
He has that slightly pigeon-toed walk, like his dad. He moves at a different speed than everyone else on the court, like his dad did. He can suspend his dribble for a nano-second and freeze the game for a moment before he makes a decision with the ball, like his dad used to do.
Jameer Nelson Jr. (above) scored 20 points in Delaware's win over Drexel Tuesday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
There’s more than just a facial resemblance between Jameer Nelson Jr. and his dad Jameer, the former NBA all-star and Saint Joseph’s Hawk all-time great. “Meer-meer” was dribbling a basketball better than most grade-schoolers when he was two. There are countless images of him with a basketball in his hands that was as big as him.
And just like his dad, Jameer Jr. is at a mid-major making an impact that could carry it into March. In January 2021, Nelson transferred to Delaware after two solid seasons at George Washington. In January 2022, he’s leading the Blue Hens to big Colonial Athletic Association victories, like the 81-77 win over rival Drexel on Tuesday night.
Nelson finished with 20 points, supporting teammate Ryan Allen’s game-high 23 in getting the Blue Hens to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in the CAA, while Drexel, which made a great late effort behind Xavier Bell’s 18 and Melik Martin’s 16 and Amari Williams’ 15, fell to 6-6 and 1-1. The Dragons were playing without 6-foot-8 fifth-year senior starting forward James Butler, who suffered a lower body injury in Drexel’s 65-61 victory over Towson on Jan. 3.
“I couldn’t play last year because of the transfer, and everyone here has really helped me out and made me feel extremely comfortable,” said Nelson, the former Haverford School star. “When the season started, I was trying to find my way and feel like I know now what’s expected of me. I have high expectations for myself.
“What I saw tonight was as a team were more connected. We had more huddles between the five of us on the court tonight than we did any other game this season.”
The younger Nelson does many things similar to his father and admits it’s a great honor to be compared to him.
But he has no problem saying out loud, “I’m way more athletic than my dad,” he said, laughing. “He is 5-11¾ and I am 6-feet, 1-inch, and it’s already set, he knows. If you ask him, he knows I’m a better athlete than he was. The funny thing is, I just started watching YouTube videos of his games recently.
“That’s my favorite thing about his career, that I can watch a lot of his games. The one thing I really learned from my dad is always stay in control, and it’s one thing I really don’t want anyone seeing in me is being too happy, or too sad. It’s important to always stay in control.”
With the ball in Nelson’s hands, the Blue Hens were in control.
Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby sees Nelson being even better.
“I think the best thing about Jameer was that he came to us in the spring last year, so he got to learn our system and how we do things,” said Ingelsby, the former Archbishop Carroll and Notre Dame star. “He’s obviously an elite, elite talent and athlete, and he’s learning how to become an even better basketball player.
“He’s obviously been around the game ever since he can remember, following his dad around, watching his dad, being in NBA gyms, college gyms. But I think he’s really starting to get a feel for when to be a playmaker, when to pass, when to attack on the offensive end. We give our guards a lot of confidence. He’s a student of the game and he has such a high ceiling.”
Jameer Nelson Jr. (above) resembles his father, Jameer, in a number of ways. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Delaware led, 45-32, at halftime, courtesy of a 9-0 run that opened up what had been a close game. Nelson had 13 in the half on 4-for-8 shooting and five free throws. Drexel, excuse the pun, was dragging. The Dragons didn’t move with the alacrity they had in their CAA win over Towson.
Nelson put the exclamation point on an 18-6 Delaware run to close the half and give the Blue Hens what seemed to be a firm direction. With 13:45 left to play in the game, Delaware held its largest lead, 62-40, and then it got interesting—real interesting.
The Dragons woke up.
Nine minutes later, the Blue Hens were playing for their lives. A Matey Juric fastbreak layoff with 2:44 left to play pulled Drexel to within 72-68, though that was answered by an Allen jumper and a slam by West Chester East alum Andrew Carr.
That, and two Nelson free throws, added some living space for Delaware towards a 78-69 lead with 34 seconds to play.
“I like Jameer’s confidence, and I think this team has all of the pieces to get to March,” Ingelsby said. “We’re still learning how to play together and trusting each other. I think we’re ahead on the defensive end more than the offensive end. We do have some offensive skill players, and we need to dribble less and pass the ball more.
“I love our group and I love coaching these days. I’m excited to keep moving forward.”
Nelson iced the game hitting three of four free throws in the last 20 seconds.
“When we do move the ball, we can be a great offensive team, and we have a talented team where everyone contributes, but we’re better when we share the ball—me included,” Nelson admitted. “We’re a team that could make the tournament.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.