Playing pro basketball in Latvia is an easy transition for Deerfield’s Nelson
Deerfield High School grad Kyle Nelson (left) drives on his man while playing professional ball in Latvia last winter. He will head up one of the Feeder team camps this summer. | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 6, 2012 8:48AM
Kyle Nelson seems to collect overseas basketball adventures the way other players collect sneakers.
Nelson, a Deerfield High School graduate, traveled with the Augustana College men’s basketball team on a trip to China in the summer of 2010. Now, about 18 months later, Nelson’s odyssey continues in Latvia where he plays professional basketball for Jelgava.
For the 6-foot-9 Nelson, this is a dream come true: getting paid to play the game he loves while experiencing a new culture and country. It was particularly meaningful for Nelson to play a game on Nov. 18, which is Latvian Independence Day. Russia recognized Latvia’s independence in 1991.
“It was really special to experience that national holiday,” Nelson said.
Nelson is keeping family and friends apprised of his progress through social media. His blog ‘Trying to Make it in Europe’ can be found at KyleNelsonBasketball.blogspot.com. His twitter handle is @NelsonK40.
Nelson first blogged about his experience playing overseas on Augustana’s trip to China.
“That trip was definitely beneficial in a lot of ways,” he said. “It exposed me to overseas basketball and living in a foreign country. That prepared me well for trying to make a career overseas.”
So far so good on the basketball part. In one of his first games, he scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He rarely comes out of games and sometimes is on the court for all 40 minutes.
The key for Nelson’s game going forward will be to continue developing his perimeter skills. In college, he made a living inside. As a senior, he averaged 14 points and almost seven rebounds a game for Augustana. In his senior year, he was one of 10 national finalists for the Jostens Trophy, an award to honor the top Division III basketball player. The award factors in basketball ability, success in the classroom and community service.
Nelson spent time this past summer working on his outside game. That will be a continual point of emphasis if he wants to move up in skill level in Europe.
“I’ve worked on extending my range and am now comfortable anywhere inside the three-point line,” he said. “It’s more of a jump shooter’s game with many plays setting up outside shots. I want to become a better driver and be able to take people off the dribble more consistently. I also want to get comfortable behind the three-point line. I feel if I can improve on those things, it will greatly expand my game.”
On Dec. 20, the night before his parents visited, Nelson scored 19 points and had 14 rebounds and four assists.
Off the court, he has made the adjustment as well.
Nelson said he likes his teammates and living in Latvia.
“It turned out to be a much simpler transition than I anticipated,” he said. “The majority of people speak English pretty well, and it’s a clean country and easy to get around.”
He said Latvians know more about America than he expected.
“Many American television shows are televised in Latvia and news reaches its way here as well,” he said. “With the internet readily available like it is in the States, there aren’t many things about other countries that people don’t know.”
While people in Latvia love the NBA, Nelson is enjoying the opportunity to learn more about European sports.
“I’ve seen some quite unusual things on television,” he wrote in his blog. “It seems like weightlifting is always on, and I’ve come across International Foosball. Yes, the table soccer game with rows of players on bars. It’s Belgium vs. Turkey and there’s a serious crowd there and they are pretty rowdy. I feel ridiculous watching it but can’t seem to change the channel.”
After a break in late December, Nelson’s season resumes in earnest in January. He plans to come back to Deerfield over the summer and continue to develop his game.
“I’m looking forward to making the trip back,” he said. “It will be (great) to be home, and I’ll work out and prepare for getting another (basketball) job next year.”
The adventure continues.