February 20, 2009

Postin' Up with Ben Nelson

In this week's edition of Postin' Up, we sit down with junior forward Ben Nelson. Though he didn't receive a single basketball scholarship offer coming out of high school, Nelson found a spot on Nebraska's roster after competing in an open tryout three years ago. A former Rugby player, Nelson earned his keep with the Huskers through simple hard work. Though he doesn't have much interest in politics, sharing a name with a certain Nebraska senator has inadvertently linked him to the political scene.

HI: You took a somewhat unusual road to earning a spot on the team. Talk about your basketball career and how exactly you ended up a member of the Nebraska basketball team.

BN: "I played a little bit of basketball in high school, and I never really got any offers to play (collegiately) at any level. So I figured I'd just go to college and get an education and see what happens from there. But I always liked playing basketball. I played a lot of rec ball, and there were some guys there that were talking about open tryouts, and I saw it in the Daily Nebraskan, so I figured I might as well try it. It's one of those experiences where if you don't try it you'll never know if you could do it. I figured if I make the team, I'm a Nebraska Cornhusker, and especially at Nebraska, there's a lot that goes with that."

HI: What was your reaction when you actually got a call back from the coaches?

BN: "I was really glad just to be a part of everything. I wasn't in as good of shape as everybody, but I was in pretty good shape. It was just a good feeling when they called me back and said they wanted me come out and help out in practice."

HI: Seeing how you weren't recruited by anyone coming out of high school, I can't imagine you ever thought you'd be wearing that Nebraska jersey right now?

BN: "Not in a million years. It was one of those things where I went to it to try, but still in the back of my mind I didn't think there was any way I'd get a call back. I just figured I'd go try it, and it only took two hours of my evening. But I don't think there was any part of me that expected a call back."

HI: I'm told basketball was actually your second collegiate sport. How does one become a college rugby player in Nebraska?

BN: "First semester of 2006 - the year that they had the tryouts - I was just sitting in class and this kid sitting next to me turns over to me and taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Hey, did you play football in high school?' And I was like, 'Yeah, a little bit.' And he goes, 'Do you want to play rugby?' And I was like, 'Sure, I'll try it.' So he told me to come to their open practice at the rec, try it out and if you like it come back, if not, no big deal."

HI: So basically you went from one of the most violent sports in the world to a sport where most contact is penalized. That had to be quite the change of pace for you.

BN: "Yeah, the biggest difference for me was just, well, I really like contact, and in rugby I got that a lot. I really enjoyed that. In one sense, it was a little bit disappointing to reduce the contact level like that switching to basketball, but at the same time, in rugby there's not that much finesse. As far a difficulty, basketball is more of a challenge. I think that's why I'm drawn to basketball a little bit more than rugby. In all honesty, though, I am a little disappointed that basketball isn't more physical."

HI: You've also got a fairly famous name around these parts. Are you very into politics like your namesake, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson?

BN: "I've never really been into politics, honestly. I didn't even know that the senator or governor or whatever from Nebraska was named Ben Nelson until I got to my first day of classes (at Nebraska) and my chemistry teacher is reading the class roster and reads Ben Nelson and was like, 'That can't be right.'"

HI: So then how did you end up almost getting an internship with his campaign?

BN: "When we played at Kansas, I got a chance to play there, and somebody that worked in his office was listening to it on the radio and all of sudden they said Ben Nelson got into the game. He goes, 'That can't be right.' He said he turned around, and (Sen.) Ben Nelson was sitting there in his office. I guess he thought it was kind of cool we had the same name, and he talked to Kent Pavelka and Kent gave me the guy's number. I called him up and he said they were looking for interns, and if I was interested they'd send me all the information. So he sent me all the information, and I ended up filling it out, and right when I got to the end of it I had a question about the dates of it and where they wanted me to work. It turned out they wanted me to work at the Omaha offices, and with basketball, classes and the job I had over the summer, I had a pretty full schedule, so a little bit regretfully I had to turn it down."

HI: Well, at least you got a pretty good Halloween costume out of the deal, right?

BN: "Yeah, I ended up going as Pete Ricketts when they were going against each other in the election. There was only maybe one person other than my friends that actually got it, so I actually had to put on one of those name tags that said, 'Hello, my name is: Pete Rickets.' The people that understood it got a pretty good kick out of it."

HI: Did you even shave your head to get the full effect?

BN: "No, I didn't want to go that far. I ended up going in my bald cap."

HI: Yeah, that might have been a little much. So who on the team has pulled off the best Halloween costume you've seen.

BN: "This year, Nick Krenk actually went as Dwight from The Office, and that was really funny. He really loves the show, so he's got all the lines memorized down pat, so the whole night he was pretty in character. It was pretty realistic. That was probably one of the funniest ones."

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