Kyle Nelson and the rest of the Lewis University men’s basketball team are having an outstanding season, but the 6-foot-7 sophomore center from St. Charles North hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“How are the North Stars doing?” he asks during a phone interview.
We talk briefly about North’s season to date, including a triple-overtime loss to Simeon in which Alec Goetz scored 36 points.
“I love Alec,” Nelson said. “He’s like a little brother to me.”
Nelson also has plenty of love for his current teammates. The Flyers (15-2) are ranked 17th in the latest NCAA Division II rankings.
“This team I’m with right now has probably one of the best chemistries I’ve ever seen,” Nelson said.
Lewis moved up a couple spots in the ratings this week after knocking off a pair of top 10 teams – No. 9 Southern Indiana (73-63) and No. 7 Bellarmine (76-68) – in Great Lakes Valley Conference play.
“I think this is the best conference in Division II basketball,” Nelson said. “I really do believe that. We always have at least four or five nationally-ranked teams.”
He noted that Bellarmine won the national title three years ago. The league schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Flyers this week. They travel tonight to 10th-ranked Indianapolis (15-2).
“We’re playing nationally-ranked teams about every week,” Nelson said.
The only two losses for Lewis came on the road at league rivals Maryville (Mo.) and Wisconsin-Parkside.
“You don’t want that blemish on your record,” Nelson said. “You see that record and it looks good. You don’t want that pimple on there.”
Nelson scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field and grabbed six rebounds in Jan. 23’s home win against Southern Indiana. He’s averaging 8.1 points and 3.5 rebounds a game while shooting 59 percent from the floor.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve played below my standards so far,” he said. “I’ve been in a little bit of a slump, but I’m coming out of it.”
Nelson understands his role with the team. He doesn’t stray far from the post. He’s tried only one shot from beyond the 3-point arc this season. He said the Flyers have outstanding guards and forwards.
“If I can just be a threat and take some of the pressure off them, we’re going to win a lot of games,” he said. “Those guys are talented out there on the perimeter. … I’ve just got to do what I know I can do.”
Nelson said he needs to do a better job boxing out to make sure rebounds don’t go to his opposite number on the other team, who “more often than not” is bigger than he is, unlike his days at North.
“I’m not an athletic guy, but I could probably jump higher than a lot of guys I played against in high school,” he said.
Nelson was a four-year letter winner for the North Stars. As a senior, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds a game while leading North to the Upstate Eight River Division title. He attracted the attention of the Lewis coaching staff even before his impressive final campaign with the North Stars.
“Lewis was the first school to offer me [a scholarship],” Nelson said. “I was interested right away, but I wanted to see what else was out there.”
He says he also looked at some NCAA Division I mid-majors and West Point, but ultimately decided Lewis was the best fit for him.
“They were the first one to offer me, and they were the most persistent and I’m glad I came here,” he said.
His freshman year in Romeoville wasn’t easy.
“It was an adjustment, that’s for sure,” Nelson said, adding that he went from being “one of the top dogs” in high school to “having to start at the bottom of the totem pole again.”
He said the transition was made easier by the presence of a lot of young guys on the team and the fact Lewis was successful, posting a 19-9 record.
“Winning makes things a lot easier,” Nelson said.
He started all 28 games for the Flyers, averaging 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. Lewis went 12-6 in league play.
So far this season the Flyers are 7-2 in the conference and are tied for second place behind 18th-ranked Wisconsin-Parkside (16-2, 9-0). The Flyers will try to avenge their earlier loss to the Rangers when they host them in the final game of the regular season Feb. 27.
“It makes it much more fun when you’re playing against better competition,” Nelson said. “You get more hyped for it than you would playing against not as well-known competition.”
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. If you have a column idea, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.