TRACY – When opposing players drove into the lane against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton this season, they were met with a tall task, both literally and figuratively. They had to try and score over the 6-foot-7, 285-pound center in Tony Nelson. Nelson recorded 36 total blocks and 15 steals on the defensive end, but it was on the other end of the floor where the TMB senior shined, averaging a double-double at nearly 20 points and 13 rebounds per game while also dishing out 18 assists.
With Nelson leading the charge, the Panthers doubled their win total from last year and recorded their best season in six years with a record of 20-9 and reached the Section 3A subsection semifinals before falling just short to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton.
Those contributions, along with his leadership, have earned Nelson the 2021-22 Marshall Independent Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Nelson said he was surprised to hear the news and appreciates everybody for all of their support.
“I’m surprised I guess. There’s a lot of great players in the area, so I’m super thankful and just overall surprised, “ Nelson said. “I’d like to thank all of my coaches, God and my family for all of their support.”
“I’m really excited for Tony,” TMB coach Rick Haberman said. “He’s a great kid and hardworking and appreciates honors that he gets, so I’m excited to hear that.”
Haberman added Nelson has grown a lot both on and off the floor and showed a strong bounce-back season after suffering an ankle injury as a junior.
“He’s really matured in his game on the court. Every year he’s gotten a little bit better; Last year was a struggle with the COVID-shortened year and he had an ankle injury so he missed a number of games and wasn’t close to his full strength, “ Haberman said. “This year, we saw a lot of improvement from Tony. He became more physical and dominant, he went after rebounds harder and took control of the game. Off the court, he’s really level-headed and has matured the last couple of seasons. He’s well-respected in the school; a kid that big could be intimidating to seventh-and-eighth-graders but he’s really a gentle giant. We’re going to miss him on the court and in the school. “
Nelson said he’s put in a lot of work during the summer months and was always willing to learn to improve his game.
“The growth has happened mostly in the summer,” Nelson said. “Just putting work in the gym learning new moves and different moves and learning the game and that just comes with playing the game.”
Haberman said what makes Nelson’s play on the court so special is the combination of his skillset and his size.
“His size is definitely a factor; He’s 6-foot-7 and around 285 pounds, so he’s a big man but he’s very athletic, “ Haberman said. “He has very good hands and a rare combination of size and strength and can run the floor well and catch the ball on the run. He shot 69.4% for the season and had around 800 career rebounds. He gave us that inside presence and was a rim protector on defense and was a main cog in our operation this year. “
Nelson said both Haberman and assistant coach Dru Larson have had a tremendous impact on him and helped him and the team get better every day.
“Dru was a big man and he played college ball after playing in Tracy, so just having his information and his skills to help me grow has been a big help,” Nelson said. “Rick is a great coach, he’s always encouraged me to get better. At practices they would always have three guys on me to simulate what I would see on the floor and I’d get frustrated at times but he would tell me to just keep going and that helped a lot. Everything he was doing was to improve the team and me and everybody on it. “
Nelson also showed appreciation for his teammates and was grateful for all of their support over the years.
“I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the award without them.” Nelson said. “I’m the big man, so I don’t get the ball unless they pass it to me, but I’m definitely thankful for my teammates. They’re all great players and I wouldn’t have gotten to without 1,000 points and almost 1,000 rebounds without them in my career. “
Nelson is currently finishing his prep career as a member of the track and field team and is looking to repeat as a state champion in the shot put. He said he also recently got the school record in discus and has goals of breaking the state mark in the shot put.
“That’s the main goal, to be a state champion again.” Nelson said. “Some other goals I got one of them on April 19 which was breaking the school record in discus, the old record was 165 feet and I threw 169 feet. Other goals are to break 60 feet with the shot put and then to break the state record at 65 feet. They are big goals but they would be cool to have. “
Nelson’s athletic career won’t be done after he graduates from TMB in the spring, as he is planning to play football for the University of Minnesota next year on the offensive line. Going into the fall, Nelson said he’s excited for the atmosphere of playing for the U of M and continuing to grow each day.
“I’m just so happy that I’m putting myself into that atmosphere.” Nelson said. “The atmosphere of the Gopher football program is crazy, everybody is there to get better and to better themselves and to make everybody else better, and I just can’t wait to be in that atmosphere and see how much growth I get when I ‘ m there. ”