FARGO — As a freshman in high school in Devils Lake, N.D., Grant Nelson was about 6-foot-1 and was just another kid on the 9th-grade basketball team. Four years later, he’s a part of North Dakota high school basketball history.
The 6-foot-10 guard-forward-center was named the state’s Mr. Basketball on Friday by the North Dakota Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. He edged future North Dakota State teammate Boden Skunberg of Jamestown, with Nelson receiving 13 first place votes and 88 points and Skunberg seven first place votes and 70 points.
Carson Henningsgard of Hillsboro-Central Valley was third with three first place votes.
How Nelson went from a run-of-the-mill player to a Division I prospect is one of those feel-good stories in the state.
“I never thought I had the skill-set for it,” Nelson said of Mr. Basketball. “I always looked up to the players who won it and thought that would be cool to get.”
He never thought he had the skill-set until last summer when his body caught up to his growth spurt. Bison head coach Dave Richman said he saw Nelson play about this time last year and thought maybe he had a chance to be a prospect.
“By June, he comes to camp and you’re like this is a no-brainer,” Richman said. “Every time I saw him he got better.”
Nelson averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots per game. He had nine games with at least 20 rebounds and was his team’s top 3-point shooter. Skunberg, who was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year earlier this week, averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Both signed with NDSU last November.
“I said it back when they signed, we’re excited about both of these young men and they happen to be from North Dakota, too,” Richman said. “They are guys who can help us early in their career and building on our championship standard.”
Nelson said he didn’t receive any college interest until last spring. He grew to 6-6 as a sophomore, which he said when he first started working on his game. He played with the ECI Basketball AAU team last summer.
“I think Grant is just going to continue to grow and develop and get better every year,” Richman said. “His best quality is he doesn’t know how good he’s going to be. He’s unique; he’s long and moves really well. His skill set for being 6-10 is really special.”
Asked what position he sees Nelson at and Richman responded with a chuckle.
“We’re going to play him as a basketball player,” he said. “I mean that in all seriousness. He provides unique matchups for us. And once he gets an understanding of how we do things, he’s going to be a versatile defender.”
Nelson will be the sixth North Dakota Mr. Basketball to play for NDSU. Others were Juno Pintar of Fargo North (1985), Rob Stefonowicz of Divide County (1990), Adam Dobmeier of Fargo South (2001), Lucas Moormann of Dickinson (2004) and A.J. Jacobson of Fargo Shanley (2013).
He is the second player from Devils Lake to win the award joining Travis Mertens in 2006.
Here is a list of North Dakota Mr. Basketball award winners as voted upon by the North Dakota Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association:
2020: Grant Nelson, Devils Lake (North Dakota State)
2019: Mason Walters, Jamestown (University of Jamestown)
2018: Wyatt Hanson, Stanley (Minnesota State Moorhead)
2017: Aanen Moody, Dickinson (North Dakota)
2016: Jason Feather, Four Winds-Minnewaukan (Lake Region State)
2015: Brad Heidlebaugh, Rugby (North Dakota, football)
2014: Tanner Kretchman, Fargo Davies (Minnesota State Moorhead)
2013: A.J. Jacobson, Fargo Shanley (North Dakota State)
2012: Melvin Langstaff, Warwick (Lake Region State)
2011: Phillip Shanilec, Midway-Minto (South Dakota School of Mines)
2010: Adam Randall, Kidder County (Minot State)
2009: Cameron Malzer, Turtle Lake-Mercer (Minot State)
2008: Austin Dufault, Killdeer (Colorado)
2007: Brian Qvale, Williston (Montana)
2006: Travis Mertens, Devils Lake (North Dakota)
2005: James Hennessy, Williston (Montana State)
2004: Lucas Moorman, Dickinson (North Dakota State)
2003: Tyler Koenig, Fargo North (North Dakota)
2002: Tommy Leikas, Fargo North (North Dakota)
2001: Adam Dobmeier, Fargo South (North Dakota State)
2000: Tyrone Terry, Valley City (Texas-San Antonio)
1999: Jeff Brandt, Minot (Minot State)
1998: Jeff Boschee, Valley City (Kansas)
1997: Travis Sturdevant, Bismarck Century (North Dakota State, football)
1996: Kenny Younger, Minot (Houston)
1995: Hunter Berg, Grenora (Williston State)
1994: Dustin Undlin, Mohall (Northern State)
1993: Randy Torgrimson, West Fargo (U.S. Naval Academy)
1992: Marty McDonald, Munich (University of Jamestown)
1991: Bart Manson, Minot (Minot State)
1990: Rob Stefonowicz, Divide County (North Dakota State)
1989: Chris Gardner, Fargo South (North Dakota)
1989: Ben Jacobson, Mayville-Portland (North Dakota)
1988: Scott Guldseth, Edinburg (LSU, North Dakota)
1987: Bryan Flam, Jamestown (Concordia-Moorhead)
1986: Todd Olson, Cavalier (Mayville State)
1985: Juno Pintar, Fargo North (North Dakota State)
1985: Chris Lamoureaux, Newburg (Minot State)