McFeely: As Bison play last home game, Grant Nelson Show begins in earnest
NDSU junior will declare for NBA draft after season and after that ... who knows what is next to come?
FARGO — Saturday should be Senior Day for North Dakota State's men's basketball team, the day when players participating in their final game at the Scheels Center get a warm sendoff from head coach Dave Richman, teammates and the fans.
Just one thing about this Saturday, when the Bison host Western Illinois at 1 p.m.
NDSU doesn't have any seniors.
It has four juniors (all of whom have at least two years of eligibility left thanks to COVID), three sophomores, a redshirt freshman and five true freshmen. No seniors.
That doesn't mean some Bison might not be making their final appearance in Fargo.
This is the transfer portal era. Players leave. For more playing time. To be closer to home. To escape cold weather. Whatever.
It's also the NIL era, when athletes can be paid endorsement money while in college.
That might be a juicy enough enticement for a player who has the talent to go from the Summit League to a major conference team.
In Grant Nelson's case, there might be another track. The NBA or some level of professional basketball.
You might want to take a good look at No. 4 on Saturday afternoon. There's a chance he might not be back.
He will have all the options.
He could return, of course, and so the point of this column might be moot.
If the 6-foot-11 junior's NBA prospects don't pan out this year and he decides playing one more season at NDSU is a better option than transferring to a bigger school — in the murky modern world of college basketball offers from big-time programs will surely come, if they haven't already — then Nelson will be back in green and yellow next winter.
But the spotlight shining directly on Nelson thanks to a Twitter highlight video put together and posted by a Detroit Pistons fan has led to increased attention from every corner of basketball. That includes the NBA. It also includes major college basketball.
Summit League MBB Bracket 2023 by Mike McFeely on Scribd
Things are about to get crazy for the quiet kid from Devils Lake, N.D. The Grant Nelson Show is about to begin in earnest.
"I certainly understand the narrative in college basketball these days for the transfer portal and NIL. I don't claim to be nor do I want to be naive to anything," Richman said Friday. "All that being said, our focus is 100% on Bison basketball right now and Grant's done a tremendous job with all the conversation and buzz around him of focusing and prioritizing winning games."
If Richman's jaw clenches when he's asked about the portal and NIL as it relates to Nelson, who can blame him? He's trying to win games this year, trying to get the highest possible seed in the Summit League tournament this year, trying to win the conference tournament for a berth in the NCAAs this year. That's the prize. This year.
And he has Nelson, this year.
But we know Nelson will hire an agent and declare for the NBA draft sometime after the Bison's season ends in March. Under NCAA rules, a college player with eligibility remaining can do that while retaining the option of returning to school if the draft landscape doesn't look promising.
While the general early consensus seemed to be that Nelson was a tantalizing talent who wasn't quite ready to be an NBA draft pick, a snippet in a story in The Athletic by well-connected reporter Seth Davis has shaken that narrative.
"The Athletic asked six NBA scouts whom they would choose between NDSU's Grant Nelson and Purdue's Zach Edey in this year’s draft.
"All six picked Nelson.
"'You look at Nelson's upside, and it’s definitely a lot higher in my view,' said one scout."
Who is Zach Edey? Only the kid expected to win college basketball's national player of the year award.
Even if Nelson decides to pull out of the draft and return to college, he has a decision to make. Does he return to NDSU, play one more year here and re-enter the draft in 2024? Or does he enter the portal and pick a Power Five school — we might have that backward — in an effort to boost his NBA stock?
The thinking goes that playing against better competition would show NBA teams he was ready for prime time.
The gamble would be that it might show he's not ready for prime time. Sometimes it's better to be The Unicorn and leave the future to the imagination.
An issue, of course, is NIL money. Major programs have collectives that can put five or six figures in the pockets of players. Sports Illustrated reported Baylor Scheierman might've commanded $400,000 when he transferred from South Dakota State to Creighton. It's believed former Bison guard Sam Griesel cashed in when he transferred to Nebraska.
On the other hand, former Summit League player John Konchar stayed four years at Fort Wayne prior to the transfer portal era and has played in the NBA since 2019. He signed a four-year, $9 million contract in 2020 and added a three-year $18.5 million extension.
He still got paid. And it was much bigger than a six-figure NIL deal.
We're about to find out where the story leads. The show begins in earnest soon. Get a good look, just in case it doesn't make a return engagement.