Evan Nelson Climbing the Charts of Tucson’s Best Ever

by Ben Hansen | Posted on Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

Evan Nelson became just the eighth player in Tucson history to score 1,000 career points earlier this season. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound scoring point guard from Salpointe Catholic who is signed to play at Harvard next season, has his Salpointe team undefeated at 17-0 on the year, and thinking about breaking through and winning the elusive 4A State Championship now that Mike Bibby’s dynasty at Shadow Mountain is over.

Thanks to Nelson’s 17.9 points and 4.4 assists per game, Salpointe is currently 17-0 on the season and No. 1 in the 4A state rankings. The 4A State Tournament is set to begin February 18, and then run through the championship game on Feb. 29. Salpointe’s biggest challengers figure to be Phoenix St. Mary’s, Peoria HS and Arcadia, along with city rival Catalina Foothills, who Salpointe is scheduled to play twice over the next couple weeks: Jan. 21 at Foothills and Feb. 7 at Salpointe.

Nelson committed to Harvard over Rice and UC-Santa Barbara on Sunday September 29, 2019. Clearly, with his final three schools being those two and Harvard, Nelson is obviously a great student, but he had a chance to be recruited by even bigger college programs earlier in his career, too.

I have covered recruiting in college basketball since 1991, and one thing I have learned is that the most important time for a recruit is the spring and summer between his sophomore and junior years of high school. Due to NCAA rules, college coaches were not allowed to have any contact with prospective recruits until September 1 of their junior years. The NCAA changed the rule this past summer, but coaches still can’t have any form of contact with recruits until June 15th after the sophomore year of high school.

Nelson had a chance to impress college coaches in attendance, during his rising junior off-season in 2018, when he played several key AAU events during the spring and summer. Nelson struggled in two events that spring, first in Duncanville, Texas and then in Fishers, Indiana, as he shot poorly and had an equal amount of turnovers as assists in (7) games on the Under Armour circuit.

It’s one thing to dominate weak local high school competition, as Nelson does in Tucson, but college coaches put much more stock in to how recruits play against the elite competition of AAU ball. Nelson struggled when coaches from the high-major college programs went to see him play.

Even so, Nelson is a terrific player and Harvard is getting a recruit who is likely to be an instant impact freshman next season. In his two-plus seasons at Salpointe, Nelson has played 59 games (as of Friday morning, Jan. 17) and scored 1,185 points (20.1 ppg) to go with 242 assists (4.1 apg), while shooting 52.8 percent overall, including 44.5% on 3-pointers. He is a very good offensive playmaker - capable of creating points for himself and his teammates.

Three or four years from now, Evan Nelson will figure to be one of the hottest grad transfer names in the transfer portal, once he completes his degree requirements at Harvard, if he chooses to do so.

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