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McFeely: Quiet first scrimmage for Grant Nelson at NBA Combine

North Dakota State forward 2-of-6 from the field, with both FGs 3-pointers

Grant Nelson drives the lane in the NBA Combine scrimmage game on Wednesday in Chicago.
Scott Comeau / Ballislife.com

CHICAGO — Gradey Dick and Anthony Black were made available to the media Wednesday at the NBA Draft Combine. Both are represented by the same agency, WME Sports, as North Dakota State's Grant Nelson. So the trio has worked out together in the weeks leading to this organized cattle call, spending time together in Santa Barbara, Calif.

There is another connection. Dick played collegiately for Kansas and Black for Arkansas. Those are two teams that played against the Bison last season, both big victories for the big schools.

Dick and Black are at the Combine, but not participating. They'll be lottery picks in the June 22 draft, both possibly going in the top 10 (Black for sure, Dick maybe). So they had time to chat.

Black had the best response to a statement about Nelson, the 6-foot-11 forward trying to play his way into the first round at the Combine.

Black is from Dallas and played at a college powerhouse. I attempted to preface a question about Nelson being from a different background by starting: "Grant is from a small town in North Dakota ..."


The guard smiled under his mop of hair and offered enthusiastically, "Devils Lake!"

A few minutes later, Dick was asked about his first impression of Nelson.

"That was my first time seeing a guy his height move the way he did and still handle the ball," Dick said. "Grant's really good. I think he's intriguing to any team here."

A very smooth 19-year-old from Wichita, Dick then laughed.

"The funniest part of that game was Grant elbowed my boy Zach Clemence in the nose. Just cracked him. Blood and all that. But he's definitely a good friend," Dick said.

Nelson has college eligiblity remaining and entered the transfer portal to make sure there's a Plan B. You think he's going to stay in the draft or go back to college?

"Him and I have grown to be good, close friends now. I can't speak for him. It's his personal stuff," Dick said. "But he's definitely a once in a lifetime type of player, with his frame and the way he plays basketball. There's not a lot of players like him."

That is the hope of Nelson, his family and his management team — that one NBA team will view him worthy of expending a first- or early second-round draft pick so the decision to return to college will be rendered moot. Nelson would prefer to turn pro, even if almost every blueblood of college basketball has already shown interest.


Wednesday was a big day in the process. Nelson played his first scrimmage at the Combine, teamed with prospects to play against other prospects with representatives from all 30 NBA teams in attendance.

He didn't have much time to show his stuff in the first half, playing only about six minutes. A smooth-looking 3-pointer from the right wing moments after getting into the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter was something Bison fans were used to seeing.

Nelson, however, was long on his next 3-point attempt, a miss that hit the back rim.

He began the fourth quarter in the rapid-substituting game on the bench, getting into the game 6:05 left in the fourth quarter and promptly missed a 3-point attempt. Another shot from beyond the arc was an airball.

Nelson drove the lane a few possessions later, appeared to lose control and a shot attempt was partially blocked. But he ended his day on a good note draining a 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining.

Nelson finished 2 of 6 from the field for six points, with his Team Richman losing to Team Hines 122-95.

Grant Nelson had six points in his first scrimmage at the NBA Combine in Chicago.
Scott Comeau / Ballislife.com

Nelson said he'll meet with nine NBA teams this week to chat. Job interviews, essentially, so teams can get to know his personality a little. He had a workout prior to the Combine with the Indiana Pacers, a team that holds the 26th and 29th picks among its three first-round choices.

"Great player. Super versatile. Tall, athletic, long arms, shoots the ball," Black said. "And we actually played him this year. I remember watching him on film and going, 'Like, he's a really good player.' And he's even getting better still."


So there was no culture shock for the North Dakota kid getting thrown in with lottery picks in California?

More on Grant Nelson
North Dakota native is enjoying the NBA Draft life, but there's no sign it's changed him. Nelson is still the same quiet, small-town kid that he was for three seasons with the Bison.
Bison star's agent says 5-on-5 games later this week will largely determine Nelson's draft fate.
Big week for Bison star begins in Chicago with testing, workouts

"No, man. He's cool. He fits in with us good," Black said. "At first, he was a little quieter but I just approached him and talked. That's what I've tried to do with the guys. As a group, we're all in this together."

Turns out, Nelson actually acted as a leader for a Santa Barbara sightseeing tour for some of the group. He has relatives living in SoCal.

"Grant's great, you know? He had some family members from around the area so me and him and a couple other guys, he took us out to this little hideaway beach and got to see this beautiful view and all the good stuff in Santa Barbara," Dick said. "I guess he's got the hotspots. So we got to experience that, thanks to Grant. It was cool."

So if staying in the draft is Plan A and returning to college is Plan B, perhaps tour guide qualifies as Plan C.

We'll learn more Thursday in Nelson's second Combine scrimmage.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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