By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
Luke Nelson, the British guard playing his freshman season at UC Irvine (UCI) sat down with ELA for an interview. Nelson is having quite the freshman year. He’s leading the Anteaters in scoring (12.1 PPG), is second in assists (2.7 APG), and is a starting guard on the team that is currently leading the Big West Conference at 20-10. Next week UCI will travel just down the road to Anaheim to play in their Conference Tournament where three wins will get them an NCAA Tournament berth. ELA first saw Nelson play for Team England at the London NIJT last May. He exploded at that tournament, showing great confidence on offense and the ability to create shots at will. Nelson has continued this success into the NCAA where he is a strong candidate for Big West Freshman of the Year.
ELA: How were you recruited? Did playing in international youth tournaments for England play a major role?
Luke: Playing for my national team played a huge role in my recruitment. It was at the U16 division B European championships where my father and I first made first contact with college coaches, and most importantly the UC Irvine Assistant Coach, Ali Ton. There was, I think, 3 schools that made contact with me there, but UC Irvine were very consistent with their communication and we had frequent email/Skype conversations. So without that I wouldn’t be here at UCI.
ELA: How hard was the decision to choose going to college over playing pro? Did you have any European Pro team interest that was tough to turn down?
Luke: It wasn’t that hard for me as I never found the right situation for me in Europe as a professional. I was approached by a few clubs to go for trials, but with my club team (Reading Rockets) and the England U18s national team, I didn’t have the time to visit these clubs for trials. Though I did have an offer to go to Spain for what would have been my senior year of high school (2nd year of college in England) but the offer wasn’t what I was looking for and I felt good about staying in England and continue going to The Henley College and play for Reading Rockets. So I felt it would be better for me to stay there and come to America once I complete my A-Levels at the Henley College.
ELA: What made you choose UC Irvine?
Luke: There were a few major things that pulled me towards UCI. First and foremost was the basketball program. I felt like I could fit in with the coaching staff, the players and the system smoothly and it would give me a great chance to succeed and win games.
Also, it’s a great school in terms of academics and a degree from here could be a great thing for me.
And the third major factor was the way of life here. The living standards are great in terms of the rooms and the meals. The weather here is also amazing, coming from England where I have seen enough gray skies!
But the main things were the basketball, academics and living standards, which are all great for me.
ELA: What’s been the biggest adjustment coming from England to Irvine?
Luke: I think the academic adjustment has been the biggest because my school and basketball have never been so involved. Also, they way in which different questions are asked and the way the class system works is just very different to what I have grown up with, though I feel I am doing well so far.
ELA: On the court, what are the biggest things you had to learn to adjust to the college game?
Luke: The speed and physicality of the game took some adjusting too, but I feel like I have adjusted well.
ELA: You’ve had some real success this year, not always easy for a freshman. What are the things you’ve improved on most during the course of the season?
Luke: A huge area of improvement for me has been my defensive play. The coaches have really been working on improving my defensive techniques along with positioning to a point that I really believe I can have a big effect on the game through what I do on the defensive end now, whereas a few years ago I barely played defense! Offensively, I have improved in a lot of areas, but it has been slight adjustments that I feel have helped me improve.
ELA: Do you or your coaches see you as a point guard or a combo?
Luke: I believe they see me as a point guard in the long run, but this year I have been more of a combo guard.
ELA: Do you think the gap between kids from England playing for England u18s and NCAA players isn’t as big as it seems? Barking Abbey went over and won a game in City of Palms, you’re having immediate success as a freshman. Should more UK kids should be aiming higher?
Luke: I think it is decreasing every year. I know of more and more English players coming to America, or going to European club teams as each year goes by. I feel like everyone wants to branch out to America, but don’t know how, and I feel like once more routes into high school, prep school, junior college or college from England are established, more players will be discovered and find their way overseas.
ELA: What are you looking forward to the rest of this NCAA season? Any goals you’ve been trying to reach?
Luke: I am just really looking forward to the rest of our season and the Big West tournament. And I don’t really have any personal goals right now, I am 100% focused on the team so we keep winning so we can extend our season for as long as possible! But my biggest goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and try and make it as deep as possible into the tournament.