By Ray Hamill — It took a year longer than expected and a 6,000 mile round trip to get here, but Thomas Nelson is finally getting the opportunity he has always wanted — to play basketball at Humboldt State.
The former Arcata High and College of the Redwoods standout will begin practice with the team next month after transferring from Division-II Flagler College in Florida, where he recently had his scholarship rescinded.
“When I was talking to the coach about that, he asked me if there was anywhere I wanted to go, and the first thing that came to mind was I wanted to play at Humboldt State,” Nelson said.
The local standout, who was an all-state selection after his sophomore season at CR in 2019/20, was somehow overlooked by the Jacks last season during the transition to a new head coach.
And when the Flagler coaches made their decision, Nelson immediately reached out to new HSU head coach Tae Norwood, who then met with the local standout and offered him the opportunity to join the program.
Because of the COVID affected season this past year and the extra year of eligibility for student athletes, Nelson, who also redshirted one year, still has two more seasons to play collegiately.
“I’m going to milk it,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m blessed. I get six years of college basketball. I’m excited about that.”
Nelson has enjoyed remarkable success wherever he’s played, winning conference championships in each of his past five seasons, including stints at Arcata High, Santa Rosa JC, CR and Flagler, where he reached the NCAA Division-II Final Four earlier this year.
During that time, he has always played his best basketball on the North Coast in front of a local fanbase.
“There’s a whole support system I have here,” he said. “I’m hoping to take (that success) to Humboldt State.”
Nelson says he wants to start for the Jacks and is glad of the opportunity Norwood is giving him to fight for his spot.
“He’s going to give me an opportunity,” he said. “I’m sure he’s going to look at me to do my thing.”
Nelson says the experience of playing at Flagler was a good one, although he played very sporadically on a deep team and felt he didn’t really get the chance he deserved.
“It was a good experience but I felt I didn’t get a real opportunity there,” he said.
He feels his game, however, has improved over the past year and a half since local fans got to see him play at CR, when he helped lead the team to a conference championship and a first-round playoff win.
“Just mentally,” he said. “And I hope I got a little tougher, and I hope my jumper’s a little better, and I hope I’m stronger.”
He described the trip to the Final Four as “amazing” and is now looking forward to the opportunity to play again on the North Coast.
Norwood, who was hired in the spring of 2020, has brought a fast-paced, energetic style of play to the program.
“It’s going to be different,” Nelson said, before adding with a smile, “I’m probably going to be in pretty good shape by the end of the year.”