Senior Keshaun Nelson was on a team that wasn’t stars individually, but starred together.
Keshaun Nelson ended up the starting small forward on the Fels High School basketball team.
But he took a strange route to getting there.
Sure, there were times he would play the position, but it wasn’t his true position.
Sometimes, he played power forward. When needed, he’d play center. And when the situation called for it, he’d play a little guard.
Whatever the Panthers needed, Nelson did. And that’s what made him such a valuable piece of Mark Heimerdinger’s rotation.
“Coach Heimerdinger told me he didn’t know what position I would be best at, so I should learn how to play every position,” said Nelson, a senior who started the last month of the season at small forward. “I didn’t mind learning them all, I knew the more things I knew how to do, the more I would play.”
Nelson earned his spot in the starting lineup for the Panthers, who finished the regular season 14–8. The season came to an end when they lost to Overbrook 48–34 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Panthers struggled in the game, shooting 22 percent from the floor, which ended up costing them the game. But it did little to take the shine off a year where nobody expected the Panthers to be a factor thanks to losing most of their regular rotation to graduation last June.
In fact, this year’s team consisted primarily of role players who did their part to help the team. It wasn’t a team of stars, but it was a team of players who starred together.
“Proving people wrong was a lot of fun,” Nelson said. “Even most of the games we lost, people were like we’re going to get blown out, but we’d only lose by a few points. And most of the games we’d win.
“We won a lot of games because we just played the way we’re supposed to play. When we did that, we would win. This year was a lot of fun.”
Nelson became a solid player for the Panthers because he was versatile and made sure to handle the little things. When Heimerdinger needed something done, he would ask Nelson to take care of it. Nelson’s effort was money in the bank.
“Keshaun became a starter because he did everything well,” Heimerdinger said. “I would tell him to do something and I’d never have to tell him twice. He was a good defender, he was a good passer, he could rebound and he became a much better shooter this year. He needed to work on his three-point shot, and there were some games this year where he would hit two or three three-pointers and it made the difference between winning a game and losing a game.”
That was by design.
Nelson knew he needed to expand his offensive game beyond turning garbage into gold by working hard underneath the basket.
“I knew I had to work on it, coach told me,” the East Oak Lane resident said. “I would go all summer, every day mostly, and shoot. I wanted to get better.”
He also admits the biggest reason for his success had nothing to do with athleticism.
Sure, Nelson worked hard in practice, but the best skill he had during his days at Fels was his ability to process what he was taught.
“I knew I had to listen and focus and do what I was told to help the team,” said Nelson, who played for the Panthers for three seasons. “I knew what I had to do to play. I would just listen to coach. He tells you want he wants, and if you listen and do it, you’ll do a lot better.”
Heimerdinger hasn’t been the only adult to help Nelson.
He lives with his brother, Derrick, who is his legal guardian. And while his older brother is a huge influence on him, Nelson returns the favor by being a mentor to his 3-year-old nephew Elijah.
“I love hanging out with him, whenever I’m home chilling,” Nelson said. “He’s got a little game. I love spending time with him.”
Nelson will continue to work on his game and spend time with his family while he prepares for his next step. He’s unsure of what that will be, though.
“I would love to go to college and play basketball if I could,” Nelson said. “If I don’t do that, I’ll go to trade school. I’m not too sure, but maybe I’d like to be an electrician.”
No matter where he ends up, he’ll always be happy to have had his basketball career as a Panther.
“We got better every game and had a lot of fun,” Nelson said. “It was a great year. I think we played better than everyone thought we would and we won a lot. That’s all I wanted to do was win.”