The Blue Zone will be running a summer series bringing you the latest on some of Duke basketball’s former stars. This week, the Blue Zone takes a look at DeMarcus Nelson.
DeMarcus Nelson played four memorable seasons at Duke from the 2004-05 season through the
2007-08 season, but unlike some other Blue Devil stars, his path didn’t lead him to an extended NBA career.
Nelson’s Duke journey began just before the end of his sophomore year in high school, when he verbally committed to the Blue Devils and head coach Mike Krzyzewski. When Nelson arrived on campus as a freshman, the combo guard was immediately thrown into the rotation, playing nearly 20 minutes per game and even starting a couple. Even though he was a frequent contributor on the court, Nelson was plagued with a ruptured ligament in his right thumb all season. Nelson’s injury problems didn’t improve as a sophomore, as he suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle, limiting him to just 24 games.
As a junior, Nelson finally blossomed, starting 31 of 33 games and averaging a career bests in points, rebounds and assists. His 14.1 points per game led the way for the Blue Devils and his 5.4 rebounds was second to just Josh McRoberts. Nelson improved further his senior year, setting new career-highs in points, rebounds and assists.
Despite his strong defense and proficient shooting from distance, Nelson went undrafted following his senior season, but agreed to a contract with the Golden State Warriors the following September. In 13 games with the Warriors, Nelson averaged 4.1 points and 1.8 rebounds while playing 13.2 minutes. He was waived by Golden State in January, but then played 20 games in the NBA Development League. His strong play for the Austin Toros and Bakersfield Jam did not go unnoticed, as the Chicago Bulls plucked Nelson from the D-League in April. Though he was signed, Nelson never played a minute for the Bulls.
Failing to draw interest from NBA teams, Nelson began his international career. For the next four years Nelson played for three different teams. After playing for Avellino in the Italian League, Nelson came into his own with Cholet in France. Nelson spent two seasons with Cholet, getting better and better as time passed. His second season with Cholet, Nelson had his best year of basketball abroad, scoring 14.5 points per game while also recording greater than three rebounds and three assists. Though he struggled from beyond the arc, Nelson was dominant from 2-point range, hitting 56.3 percent of his attempts. It was Nelson’s big 2011-12 season that attracted the attention of Red Star Belgrade, his current employer.
Since making the move from France to the Adriatic League and Red Star Belgrade, Nelson’s production has slipped a bit. Despite playing the same amount of minutes, Nelson is averaging 8.8 points over 47 games thus far this season for the Red Star, down from the double-digit scoring he averaged in two seasons in France. However, Nelson has been improving in the Euro Cup games, raising his scoring, rebounding, assist and steal numbers in those 11 games.
Still just 27 years old and finding success abroad, the door has yet to close on Nelson’s NBA career. A number of players, including Nelson’s former Blue Devil teammate Shavlik Randolph, have received NBA contracts after years of playing overseas.