Oct. 24, 2011
The Oregon State men's basketball team opened its 111th season when practice began on Oct. 14 with its most talented and deepest team in years. We'll provide a feature on all 13 players on the roster so you can get to know the newcomers and find out what the veterans did during the summer to prepare for the inaugural Pac-12 season. Our ninth feature highlights sophomore guard Roberto Nelson.
Roberto Nelson is as competitive as anyone you'll ever meet. That's why he worked harder than ever since the Beavers final game last season because he felt like he let the fans, and himself, down and he's determined not to do it again.
By now, everyone knows his recruiting story and how he received 2,161 pieces of mail from 56 different programs. Everyone knows he didn't get a single letter from Oregon State but made one official visit - to Oregon State - fell in love with head coach Craig Robinson, the town of Corvallis and all of the people and quickly made a commitment, making him one of the Beavers most prized recruits in the past two decades.
But what people don't know is the stress he endured during the recruiting process. The stress of not being able to play his freshman season, because of NCAA clearinghouse rules, and being forced to sit out the first seven games of his redshirt freshman season. And the stress he faced of being tagged as the savior who would instantly make the Beavers great again.
Everyone saw a player who always had a smile on his face and a jump shot with unlimited range. But they forgot he hadn't played competitively in almost two years and that the transition from high school to Division I college basketball isn't as easy as people might think.
Nelson himself knows he wasn't ready. He knew basketball as a game that he had always dominated and figured he could step on the court and do it again. It wasn't that simple. But he has matured as a person and worked harder than ever to make sure he is ready this time around to be in better shape and more consistent as he enters his sophomore season.
"Not only was there a lot of pressure externally from people who had expectations of what he was going to be based on his ranking and all of that, there was a lot of internal pressure put on himself because he is a kid who wants to do well for the rest of his teammates," Robinson said. "When you take off a year-and-a-half of playing, it's just hard to get on track and it took him awhile. Now that he got on track toward the end of the year and was able to spend the whole summer getting ready, he's going to hit the ground running this time around as opposed to getting off to a slow start."
It wasn't like Nelson had a bad year. He scored an Oregon State freshman record 34 points against Arizona State, made 85 percent of his free throws and was the team's fourth leading scorer. But the competitive Nelson wasn't satisfied. And when he isn't satisfied, he works hard to get better. And better. And better.
In his own words, Nelson talks about the stress of the recruiting process, his first season at Oregon State and the Beavers Without Borders trip that changed his life.
When did you start playing basketball?
"I was one-years-old. I have pictures of me dunking on my Fisher-Price rim. I would pick up a ball and my dad would hold me up and I would put the ball in the rim."
So when did you know you wanted to play basketball?
"From that day on, when I was one, I knew I wanted to play basketball. My dad put the ball in my hands and he knew I was going to play basketball."
Why was basketball the one of all the sports you played?
"Soccer was actually my first sport. That was the first sport I really started getting good at. I had a lot of friends who were good at soccer so I just played in the backyard with them. I liked soccer first and then baseball and then basketball kind of came in and I started liking basketball more."
What was it like for you at Santa Barbara High School?
"It was fun. I was trying to figure out what high school I wanted to go to. I was bouncing back and forth. I was going to play with former UTEP guard Julyan Stone. He went to Dos Pueblos High, which was one of our rivals and my dad used to coach there so I was going to go there. At the last minute, I decided to go to Santa Barbara. It was a great school. I loved Coach (Jeff) Lavender. I wanted to find a coach and a team that we could just try to go out there and win some games. At the time, Santa Barbara had a lot of good pieces and Coach Lavender was willing to let us do a lot of things out there on the court so that's why I went there."
How did you play football, basketball and golf in high school?
"Football overlapped into basketball a little bit but basketball never really overlapped into golf. If we went deep into the playoffs, or something like that, it would overlap with basketball. We went to the second round a couple of times so we would usually have a week off and go right into basketball."
What was the recruiting process like for you?
"It was very stressful, especially on our family having coaches call and letters and stuff like that. I would change my cell phone number and they would get my number right away somehow. It was stressful, but I felt very fortunate to be in that situation. A lot of people would die to be in the situation I was in. It made me a better person to go through that and try to make a grown decision that young was good for me. It was super stressful but it paid off and I'm glad with my decision."
Did you ever think about playing college football?
"As soon as I started getting letters for football, I was thinking about trying to do both. But then I was like `no, that's too much on my body.' I already knew that it was going to be hard just playing one sport. To go out there and play two would be super hard. A lot of the coaches were trying to figure out whether I was going to play football or basketball. They were thinking I was going to bounce back and forth and were scared I might go to the school and end up just playing basketball."
How many official visits did you take?
"Oregon State was the only official visit that I took. I took unofficial visits. I just loved the people here. I got here and people knew who I was and they were excited about me coming here and they seemed excited and seemed like they really cared about me. That's what I wanted. College is really like a second home. So that's what it felt like when I came here more so than the other places. A lot of the other coaches were just interested in the basketball Roberto. They didn't talk about education or what I was interested in or football. When I came up here, I was shocked to see that Coach Robinson was interested in more than just basketball Roberto. He wanted to know my hobbies. He actually didn't even bring up basketball and that blew my mind. We didn't talk about basketball once. I was like `wow'; he's interested in me and trying to develop me as a man and as a person rather than just try to win games. That went a long ways with me and that's why I chose Oregon State."
When you finally got to play for Oregon State, was there too much pressure on you?
"It was cool to hear the stuff people were saying. But I never really let it bother me. I felt like I was just a step behind when I finally got out there. I don't think I prepared myself mentally and physically for the game. I thought it was going to be more like high school, like the junior high to high school transition. But it's even harder. I just didn't prepare myself physically and mentally. I think that's why I was a step behind. I never buy into the hype, because the hype can mess you up. I've seen it mess a lot of people up. I don't want to be another one of those guys."
Was it the first time you've been frustrated on the basketball court?
"It wasn't that I was frustrated. I was just so mad at myself because I'm so competitive that I wasn't performing to my best and I felt like I was letting the team down. I was just mad at myself for not going out there and playing to my abilities that I know I can play. I felt like I let a lot of people down and I needed to go out there and try to craft my game better so I can be prepared."
You did have some great games like an Oregon State freshman record 34 points against ASU?
"It was good for me because it gives me that sense that I can go out there and still play well. If you look at that game and go back to that game, the guys did a great job of getting me open shots. It just wasn't me going out there and scoring 34 points. It was Joe Burton taking his man and screening for me and giving it to me in the corner. Kevin McShane doing all of the crazy things that he does. We just played well as a team that day and my shot was falling."
What have you done since the last game last season to prepare for this season?
"I just made sure that I'm not taking a day off or a second off. I'm making sure that I stay on myself and holding myself accountable so all of those times when I'm getting tired and I wanted to take this play off and get some water, that I'm working through that. So I'm going to be in better shape and stronger and just mentally prepared."
Have you set any goals for yourself for the upcoming season?
"I'm so competitive that if I set goals for myself, I would probably never achieve them because I would put them so high that it would be crazy. I don't try to fill my head with anything. I just want to go out there and play to the best of my abilities and help the team get some wins."
What did the Beavers Without Borders trip mean to you personally?
"It did a lot for me. It showed me the materialistic stuff that we value as Americans doesn't really matter. Coming from a basketball standpoint, when I'm out there getting tired and I think I have it hard and the coaches are yelling at me and I'm sitting back thinking `oh dang, this is hard', I can just take a step back and think about what they go through on a day-to-day life and just say `I don't have it hard; this is cake compared to what they do.' It gave me another sense that I need to work harder and maybe I can help people out like that again."
Did it make you appreciate everything you've been fortunate to get?
"Most definitely. It makes me very grateful for all of the things I have. Kevin (McShane) and I were talking about it that the cell phones and stuff that we buy out here could feed a family for months there. It's just crazy that we value all of this materialistic stuff when those people just get enough to get by. We are out here getting all of the stuff we need and making ourselves broke and thinking we need all of this stuff. It was crazy to be there and come back to America to see what we value."
Do you feel like you're more of a team leader now?
"I feel like I've matured a lot. I'm still the funny guy on the team out there. But when it comes down to getting down to work and going hard, I'm just trying to make sure that I'm going hard so I'm setting the tone for the other guys. Especially like Challe (Barton) and the newer guys. Jared (Cunningham) and everyone else who has been here knows what to do. But we need that guy when we are messing up and we are joking around, we tell him to be quiet and this is how we need to do it so we can win those close games. I think that's what we've been missing; that leader on the team that when things get tough or when we start to lose confidence, who tells everybody to settle down and we need to run the play like this and let's take advantage of our situation."
What do you like best about Corvallis?
"I love it. A lot of people were telling me that it rains a lot and I would be depressed since I'm from Santa Barbara. What people don't know about me is that I'm just a laid back guy anyways. I don't go partying so I'm used to just staying at home. The rain doesn't bother me. It feels good after a workout to go outside and have the raindrops hit you. I just like to stay at home or go get up shots."
Are you naturally good at everything you do?
"No, I'm just competitive. When I pick up a new sport or when I try something new, I don't like being bad at it. I don't like being the worst at it. I have to keep doing it until I get halfway good at it. That's how I am at video games, too. That's why I try not to buy video games, because if I'm not good at it or I'm playing against someone else and I lose then I have to keep playing it until I beat them."
What are your team goals for the year and why should people be excited?
"We are trying to make the past the present. We have the guys to do it and we are very athletic. All of the guys are on the same page now. Just as a team overall, we weren't always on the same page before. This year everybody knows what we have to do so we don't have a subpar year like we did last year. We all know we have to work harder. Since people are picking us to finish at the bottom now, we want to prove everybody wrong and shock the world."
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