In the game and in practice, Duke's senior guard and ACC Defensive Player of the Year DeMarcus Nelson knows what it takes to be a leader. The only senior on the team, Nelson has guided his young teammates to a 26-4 overall record and as high as a No. 2 national ranking. He leads the Blue Devils in a number of categories, including scoring (15.2 ppg) and steals (49). Nelson took a few minutes to chat with theACC.com about his basketball career.
When did you start playing basketball?
My first year of organized (basketball) was third grade, but I've been playing all my life. My whole family is very sports-oriented, so I grew up around sports. My dad played in junior college and semi-pro, and my brother was training at the time - that's why I was around it.
What other teams have you competed on leading up to your college career?
My high school team, my AAU teams, some summer league teams, (as well as) the USA team.
Can you talk about your time with the USA team?
I went out and tried out for the USA team this (past) summer. I did a pretty good job down there, heard that if I hadn't gotten injured I would have made the team. In high school, I had played with the USA team in the Olympic Sports Festival on the west team and did a pretty good job out there with them, too.
What is the best advice you've received from a coach?
|Nelson drives down the court in Duke's game against Maryland.|
Just to go after it and leave it all out there. Be aggressive. I've heard that from Coach K down through the rest of the coaching staff - just be the player that you are and go after it.
Who is your most influential role model?
I would say my family is the most influential because they got me to this point and sacrificed a lot for me to get here. Since I've been here, I'd say Coach has been my next influential role model because he's taught me a lot and developed me as a player.
What does it mean to you to be playing for such a legendary coach, and is there anything in particular you've learned from him?
I've learned a lot and it means a lot because I'm getting the best training, the best teaching, that I can possibly get. That's priceless - it's invaluable. I try to be a sponge and pick up all the things he teaches - the passion, the enthusiasm, and the hard work you need to become good, (as well as) the basics.
What is your most memorable moment in sports, either as an athlete or as a sports fan?
I would say the most memorable moments are the opportunities to put your yourself in a position to win games. (Players) always think of (themselves) knocking down that big shot to win a game or coming back after trailing, and just playing well on the big stage. Those are the moments we all dream about and when those happen, I would say those are the most memorable ones. Our team has had a couple of those already this year.
What is your greatest accomplishment as an athlete?
I would say being able to compete and be successful at this level, and also staying humble. I really have my family and God to thank, and also my coaches and my support that has been around me. They've all helped me get to this point and be successful at this level, and they all kept me humble.
What do you still hope to accomplish?
|Nelson demonstrates his defensive prowess with a blocked shot during Duke's game against North Carolina.|
I want to win! We want to win this ACC Tournament and a national championship. As a player and as a team, everyone should have that mindset going in - that's definitely our mindset, and so that's how we've been training.
What will it take to accomplish that this year?
It will take us going out there and playing our style of basketball, being very confident, and being very efficient and sharp. If we have all of our guys playing and contributing the way we are capable of, I think we'll be fine and can beat anybody.
Can you talk about what it's like playing in a conference like the ACC?
It's tough because you have to be up for every game you play. Every game you play, no matter who it is, the other team is going to give you their best game. Sometimes they even play over their heads, so we have to be that much better. It's definitely been tough for us, but we've done a good job of preparing for our opponents and not overlooking anybody and looking at each game as its own challenge.
What does it mean to you to be named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year?
It means a lot because that was my role on this team - to guard the other teams' best offensive players and shut those guys down. I was successful doing that, maybe a few games not as much, but over the course of the season it's been a strong point for me and for my teammates.
Can you talk about the leadership needed being the only senior on the team this year?
|Nelson puts up a shot over Clemson.|
The leadership is definitely needed with being the only senior with the most experience and knowing what it takes. My teammates have followed, and have done a great job themselves by having a great attitude. Everyone wanted to come into practice every day and to the games to get better. We've all been pulling for each other. I've just tried to be that rock, that glue guy for our team to make sure everyone's doing what they're supposed to be doing, making sure everyone's confident, and making sure we're playing the style of basketball that we're capable of playing.
What is your favorite aspect of the ACC Tournament?
I would say the competition. Every team is competing for a championship. When you're competing for the ACC regular season (title), you have 16 games to win a championship and it's over two months. The ACC Tournament is more intense because for us it'll be three games in three days - four games in four days for other teams - and it's real intense and everyone's going after it.
Why did you choose Duke?
I thought it was the best place for me. It's the best institution with the best coaching staff, and it's a place to get better as a player, as a student, and as a man. (I'm majoring in) cultural anthropology with a theater minor.
Can you talk about what the Read With the Blue Devils program is and your involvement with that?
We go around to local inner-city elementary and middle schools and read to kids and try to encourage them to do more reading on their own. Reading is one of the most important ways for us to develop ourselves and our intelligence. Reading definitely inspires the mind, inspires people to dream. It's a way for us to improve as individuals.
What are your plans for after graduation?
Hopefully I can continue to play ball and do what I love to do. Also, when the time's right, I want to venture off and do some different things business-wise - venture capitalism and some other entrepreneurial things.
DeMarcus Nelson and the Blue Devils open ACC Tournament play tonight after a first-round bye. They take on seventh-seeded Georgia Tech at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to face the winner of the Clemson/Boston College game.