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And the UF guard is teaching opponents that speed (with a little control) kills.
By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 2001
GAINESVILLE -- Hurtling from one end of the court to the other, Florida guard Brett Nelson is a blur of knobby knees, cropped-top hair and size 13 sneakers.
Follow the bouncing ball.
The rest is too dizzying.
Arms zig. Legs zag. Eyes dart. His uniform, baggy not only as a statement of fashion but because it's just too darn big for a skinny kid from West Virginia, flaps like a flag on a windy day.
"I do pretty much everything at a fast pace," the 20-year-old said. "A lot of times it seems like I'm out of control, but I know where I'm going."
With No. 8 Florida playing at Kentucky tonight for a share of first place in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, Nelson has become one of the league's fastest-rising stars.
"The way Brett has played the last eight games, there is nobody better in America right now at the guard position," teammate Teddy Dupay said. "He had always shown flashes of brilliance, but now he's doing it every night. That's what great players do."
In SEC games, Nelson, a sophomore, leads the league in scoring (18.2) and steals (2.5), is second in assists (4.75), third in three-point shooting percentage (50), sixth in field-goal percentage (52.4) and seventh in assist-turnover ratio (1.52).
"He's always energetic, not just on the court but off the court, too," teammate Matt Bonner said. "I don't know what it would take to slow him down. A marathon, maybe?"
If symphonies were played with a shot clock, Nelson would be the ultimate conductor. Blazing speed, jump stops, no-look passes and three-point shots are among the wide range of instruments he uses to create frenetic harmony. "He's all over the place," Dupay said.
Nelson's emergence a month ago came after a rocky start to the season during which coach Billy Donovan removed him from the starting lineup for three games. In too much of a rush, Nelson was taking bad shots, disrupting the flow of the offense. He got the message. Coming off the bench, he scored 14, 22 and 15 points.
"One thing I have always respected about Brett is he is not afraid to make mistakes to make things happen," Donovan said. "His mistakes are not going to be tentative, they're going to be aggressive mistakes."
When forward Brent Wright and guards Dupay and Justin Hamilton were sidelined by injuries in early January, Donovan called on every remaining player to pick up the slack. Nelson, typically, did not hesitate.
Scoring all of his 21 points in the second half, he hit a jumper with 0.5 seconds left for an 81-80 win at Mississippi State. His three-point play in the final minute of an 81-67 win against Tennessee put the game out of reach.
But Nelson has done more than just score timely points. His turnovers are down, including two games in which he had none. His assists and steals are up. He has stayed out of foul trouble. By learning to harness his trademark speed, he has become a more complete and dangerous player.
"Now I understand when to go 100 miles an hour and when to slow it down," Nelson said. "I can change pace a lot better now. When I first got here, I went 110 miles an hour every single play. Now that I change pace, it's hard for people to guard me."
Quality isn't the only thing remarkable about Nelson's play in the SEC. There also is the matter of quantity. In the past six games, he has played a team-high 223 of 240 minutes.
"Here's a guy who's playing 38 minutes a game, full speed, up and down the floor, and he's producing all the way through," Donovan said. "He can run all day long. You can keep him on the floor for long, long periods of time and he's still able to do things while he's fatigued. For whatever reason, he does not get tired."
Maybe it's his build.
Nelson has worked hard in the weight room since arriving as a scrawny, 173-pound freshman. But at 6-3, 185 pounds, he still is a long way from chiseled. Whittled is more like it, by years of being in a hurry.
"Growing up, I'd run everywhere," Nelson said. "I don't know why. But if I had to go across the street, I would run. Everybody thought I was crazy."
Still might, if they could keep him in focus.