news 5 days ago

College basketball: Brett Nelson embraces Holy Cross community upon introduction as men's basketball coach

Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. — Jennifer Toland Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

WORCESTER 2019--WORCESTER -- Two words Holy Cross director of athletics Marcus Blossom kept hearing while making inquiries about Brett Nelson during HC's recent men's basketball coaching search were "relentless" and "winner."

Indeed, Blossom learned, Nelson brings the same persistence and passion he had as a player to the profession he knew he wanted to pursue since he was starring in the University of Florida's backcourt, and he shares Blossom's high expectations and vision for the Holy Cross men's basketball program.

Holy Cross announced the hiring of Nelson as the 18th coach in program history July 3, and Tuesday the college formally introduced him during a news conference at the Luth Athletic Complex.

New @HCrossMBB coach Brett Nelson: 'I'm both honored and humbled for this opportunity.'@GoHolyCross @tgsports @WACBAHoops pic.twitter.com/c8H4OjK7U9

-- Jennifer Toland (@JenTandG) July 9, 2019 "Today is not about me," said the 38-year-old Nelson, who was accompanied by his wife, Jamie, and their 8-year-old son, Eli. "It's about the current players, the former players, the fans, the alumni, this Holy Cross community. I promise you're going to get my absolute best each and every day. We will be relentless with our work. We will be relentless with our effort. We will be relentless with our competitiveness."

Nelson comes to Holy Cross from Marquette, where he was on the staff for five seasons, including the last two as associate head coach.

Nelson replaces Bill Carmody, who announced his retirement June 18 after coaching the Crusaders for four seasons.

Also in attendance at Tuesday's news conference were incoming freshmen Joe Pridgen, Drew Lowder, Ryan Wade and Ciaran Sandy, as well as sophomore Chris Lovisolo. Many HC alums were also there, including men's basketball legend Togo Palazzi.

Nelson said he was somewhat familiar with Holy Cross and its basketball history, and he learned more about it from Billy Donovan, who was his coach at Florida.

"He went on and on about the history," Nelson said. "As I went through the process, I got more and more excited. I'm blessed to be sitting here today."

Nelson said he and Blossom built a relationship quickly.

"I was blown away with how our visions and beliefs matched up," Nelson said.

The search for Carmody's replacement moved swiftly, and Nelson emerged as a front-runner early in the search process, which attracted a number of qualified candidates.

"I wanted a coach who didn't shy away from high expectations and shared my vision for this program, which is to be the best in the Patriot League," Blossom said, "to be one of the most respected in the country and one that consistently competes for and wins championships. Brett certainly shares that vision.

"He was the top choice I went after from the beginning," Blossom said. "He was exactly who I was looking for -- someone who can connect with the players, someone who is getting better every day, someone who is on the rise. From our conversations, (I could tell) he was humble enough to understand what he didn't know and what he has to get better at. That was a quality that really attracted me to him. After our first conversation, I honed in on him and made a lot of calls, and everything I heard about him was exactly what I was hoping for."

This is the first head coaching job for Nelson, who was also an assistant at Ball State, Drake, Arkansas and Marshall.

At Marquette, Nelson helped bring in the 2016 recruiting class, which ranked first in the Big East and included sharpshooter Markus Howard. Under coach Steve Wojciechowski, he helped lead the Golden Eagles to three straight national postseason berths, including the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17 and 2018-19.

"Coach Wojciechowski was very impactful in my life and really helped me grow as a person and as a coach," Nelson said. "He allowed me to think like a head coach the last five years. He really gave me freedom to grow in all areas."

Holy Cross went 58-73 the last four seasons under Carmody. In 2015-16, the Crusaders won the Patriot League title, made the NCAA Tournament and won an NCAA game for the first time since 1953.

HC has not finished above .500 since 2013-14. The Crusaders are coming off a 16-17 season and 10th-place finish in the Patriot League. HC graduated its best player from last season, center Jehyve Floyd.

Nelson likes the talent on the upcoming season's roster, he is getting to know the players, and he wants to bring an exciting style to the Hart Center this winter.

"I'm humble enough to know I'm going to have to adjust some things," Nelson said, "but in a perfect world, offensively we're going to play with great pace, have great spacing and be very unselfish, and, No. 1, be in attack mode in everything we do.

"Defensively," Nelson said, "in my core, I'm a man-to-man guy. Three things that are going to describe our defense are we're going to be aggressive, we're going to be disruptive, we're going to be disciplined. More than anything, we're going to play with great effort. We're going to be the most connected team in college basketball, and it's going to be a fun and exciting style of play for our fans."

Blossom confirmed that rising juniors Caleb Green and Jacob Grandison, both starters the last two seasons, are in the NCAA transfer portal.

"We hope they both come back and get a chance to work with Brett," Blossom said.

At Florida, Nelson was a three-year starter and member of four NCAA Tournament teams, including the Gators' 2000 team that reached the national championship game.

Nelson, a 2004 Florida graduate, finished his playing career ranked first in school history in 3-pointers made, was second in steals and scored more than 1,400 points.

In the next person to lead the Holy Cross men's basketball program, Blossom said he was looking for a person of great character and integrity, a tireless recruiter, an energetic and enthusiastic teacher who can develop players, and someone with the willingness and ability to evolve.

"When (Carmody's retirement) happened, I had an idea of what type of coach I wanted," Blossom said, "so that helped with the short time frame. Brett's profile kind of matched exactly what I was looking for. Marquette is a good program, and he's been on an upward trajectory there. I'm excited we could get him."

--Contact Jennifer Toland at jennifer.toland@telegram.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenTandG.

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