When 14 seniors graduate, there have got to be some younger players to step up for a team the next year. For the Fossil Ridge boys basketball team, Austin Nelson has become one of those players.
The 6-3 senior forward is playing his first year on the varsity squad after last season’s JV experience. The result, though, is Nelson has been the team’s second leading scorer as well as rebounder.
“Making the transition from JV to varsity is not that different,” Nelson said, “except for the speed of the game. We just do everything a lot faster.”
As a scorer, Nelson said he’s just as apt to slash toward the basket as he is to set up and shoot a jumper. On defense, he said he can clean the boards in addition to playing aggressive defense.
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“I do what the game asks me to do,” he said.
“He’s been a guy we know we can count on, day in and day out,” said Fossil Ridge head coach Zack Myers. “He’s a steady force that every team needs.”
And Nelson is doing everything faster on both ends of the court, as his status in scoring and rebounding may indicate. His focus, though, is being a strong defender.
“I think I’m probably stronger on defense,” Nelson said. “And defense leads to offense and as a team, too.”
The Panthers seem to perform well offensively when they can work in transition, Nelson said. The fast break opportunities are plentiful and Fossil Ridge is at its best when it can push the ball up court.
“All we have to do is get stops, and that leads to our offense,” Nelson commented.
One of just three seniors, Nelson is a leader for Ridge and gets just as much enjoyment from the game regardless of whether he’s scoring or rebounding.
“I do consider myself a leader, but more by example than words,” Nelson said. “I’m not one of the more vocal guys.
“And even though our record isn’t where I’d want it to be, I still love it. I wouldn’t get up every morning and got to practice if I didn’t. We don’t have as much experience, but we fight because we love the game.”
Nelson admits the Panthers aren’t one of the taller teams in the district, but they make up the difference with speed and the will to compete.
The team, Nelson said, doesn’t’ spend too much time looking at their record, but instead is focused on finding what needs to be done in order to improve.
“What we need to work on most is closing out games,” Nelson said. “Once we do that, we’re a more solid team.”
Nelson’s style – whether on offense or defense – begins with confidence. The confidence starts from Myers, who has demonstrated his trust in Nelson as the season has progressed.
“More than anything, he has such a great attitude,” Myers said. “I’m really proud of him and he’s worked himself into being a good basketball player.”
“He (Myers) doesn’t put much of a limit in my game,” Nelson said of his coach. “He lets me do a lot on offense and defense. If I’m left open, I can knock down the shot and I won’t pass up a drive to the basket. I won’t do more than what the game asks of me.”
What is still ahead for Nelson and the Panthers remain to be seen, but the second round of the district games will afford familiarity.
“In everyone I’ve guarded, I’ve paid attention to the sets they run and who shoots, and I know what it takes to improve and be stronger in the second round,” Nelson said. “How our team fights in the second round will be stronger than in the first. We’re never going to stop fighting and you can’t say that about many teams.”