Playing Through

The morning of December 4 was like any other for Dundrecous Nelson. Well, as normal as a Saturday morning could be considering the circumstances.

He woke up early, dressed and headed towards campus. His destination was Ole Miss' extravagant basketball practice facility, where the team's athletic trainer would be waiting for treatment on the freshman guard's injured right ankle.

Nelson did as he was advised to do. He was used to days like this. The ankle was, and remains, less than 100 percent. Busy mornings and afternoons, especially on a game day, had become the norm.

So he underwent some physical therapy. Then he hit the gym. Whether instructed or not, he was going to take some shots. Because he's missed far more time than he or his head coach, Andy Kennedy, would have liked over the opening month of his first regular season at Ole Miss.

"His practice reps haven't been what we've needed them to be," Kennedy said. "It's hurt his conditioning."

This isn't the first time he's hurt his ankle as a member of the Ole Miss basketball team. Actually, it's one of two ankle sprains Nelson has suffered. Then there is a concussion. And a wrist injury. Put simply, "a myriad of injuries," according to Kennedy.

Andy Kennedy

"The biggest thing with him is just getting healthy," he said. "It's just been one thing after another."

Shot after shot. He needed the practice time. Ole Miss was set to host Southern Miss later that night in crucial non-conference game. His time in Oxford, at least up until Saturday, had been frustrating. Or irritating. Or a combination of both.

All because of injury.

"It's very irritating, because it's hard to go as full speed as I want to, just because the littlest injury hurts the worst," Nelson said. "It's very, very irritating for me. Right now, I'd say I'm about 70-75 percent. The ankle stays swollen. You have to give it time."

He didn't have the luxury of time Saturday. He had to play.

Ole Miss was 3-2 entering the game, coming off a disappointing loss at Miami. He had played 16 minutes in the loss, but was held to only two points – both from the free-throw line. He was 0 for 4 from the field and 0 for 3 in his 3-point attempts.

But his minutes were a significant improvement from previous games. In a win over Penn State, he saw the floor for all of three minutes. Against Dayton, he played nine minutes, though he totaled 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting.

"If you're a baller, you're a baller. If you can play, you can play. And he can play," junior forward Terrance Henry said.

Sixteen minutes was all he needed against Southern Miss. There were times when he was the best player on the floor. He was a bumbling ball of energy, sparking Ole Miss early with pressure defense and a willingness to get to the rim offensively.

Most impressive, however, was his Chris-Warren-like efficiency from beyond the 3-point line. He made three of his four 3-point attempts in the first half, most during integral parts of the game. He was confident and shooting like it, as if feeling no strikes of pain from his multiple nagging injuries.

"His mentality has always been, when in doubt, shoot it," Kennedy said. "And we're trying to change that a little bit, but not always. I think he picked the right school. Once he learns good shot, bad shot, he's got a chance to be a tremendous player."

Ole Miss won, 86-81. Nelson had one less point, 11, than his career-high in the loss to Dayton. He had committed four turnovers to three assists.

"I felt good," Nelson said. "I felt like I'd have a good game. I felt confident, relaxed. The shots seemed to fall."

Dundrecous Nelson

But even Kennedy admitted, from a shooting perspective, that Saturday was Nelson's best game to date. It was a game the fifth-year head coach had long expected when he signed Nelson in the recruiting class of 2010.

Nelson, who attended William B. Murrah High School in Jackson, was rated a four-star recruit by Ole Miss competed with Alabama and UAB for his signature.

"His physical talent is undeniable," Kennedy said. "And in the two games he's actually played, he's been a major thrust for us. He's kind of taken on Trevor (Gaskins') role. When he comes in, something's going to happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but something is certainly going to happen."

Nelson said he is more comfortable now. He is beginning to understand the demands of this game, be it in practice or in a game. As Henry will attest, his practice habits left much to be desired initially. Henry even described those habits as "lazy."

"He's not a practice player," Henry said. "When it comes game time, he can turn it on. He's had a lot of injuries. I've never seen anybody like him and Reggie (Buckner) getting injured as much as they do. They've had more injuries together than the whole team."

Nelson is the heir apparent to Warren at point guard. He has a similar game and build to Warren, too, listed at 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds.

"I wasn't that comfortable at first. But now, I am comfortable," Nelson said. "I have a big role for the team now. I think Chris gave me a lot of pointers of what to do and what not to do. I feel kind of comfortable now as being a point guard."

And his presence at Ole Miss has opened doors to recruiting in Jackson. Same for fellow freshman Demarco Cox of Yazoo City. Ole Miss recently signed Jarvis Summers of Provine. Nelson expects more to follow suit in the future.

"Before we signed it was like, ‘Why y'all going to Ole Miss?' More people want to come now," Nelson said. "Once they see me, Demarco (Cox), now we have Jarvis (Summers) from Provine – a couple of more Mississippi kids that sign, they feel it's a more comfortable school to come to. We kind of like started a trend, you could say.

"There's a better perspective in Jackson now."

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