Reeves Nelson has played in his share of big games in his four years at Modesto Christian High School.
His teams won four Sac-Joaquin Section titles and advanced to the CIF NorCal Championship game three times. This year, the Crusaders lost to St. Mary's of Berkeley in a NorCal semifinal.
But ask the UCLA-bound forward what one game he'll remember the most, and he can't think of it. Instead, he'll remember the journey.
Nelson, who averaged 24.7 points and 14.0 rebounds a game for Modesto Christian, is The Bee's 2009 Boys Basketball Player of the Year. It's the second consecutive year Nelson has won this honor.
He'll go down as one of the most talented players in Modesto basketball history. But this season wasn't a storybook year. He missed the beginning of the season due to a football injury that was corrected by knee surgery, and spent much of the year getting back into shape. MC struggled as a team as well.
"We started so slowly," Nelson said. "Things just weren't happening for us. It was very different for me; I'd never been in that sort of situation."
Modesto Christian lost four of its first six games and five of its first eight. But Nelson started playing better, and fellow forward Johnny Hutton developed into a go-to player as well.
In late January, the Crusaders traveled to Southern California to play Campbell Hall of North Hollywood and beat the state-ranked team, 69-62.
"We bonded as a team and we started playing better," Nelson said. "We played so much better after that game. And it was pretty neat to see a bunch of guys who hadn't played much in previous years come in and contribute."
The Crusaders would go on to win 14 of their next 16, including another section title. They lost to a superior team in St. Mary's of Berkeley.
"I'll remember that whole process of just coming together and persevering," Nelson said. "Everything that happened early, we put it behind us and just had fun."
Nelson is done with high school ball. On June 23, he'll leave for national power UCLA to start summer school. He'll also play at the famous open gym sessions on campus.
"A lot of NBA players live in that area during the off-season," Nelson said. "Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and a bunch of NBA players will be playing as well as the current team and former UCLA players. UCLA's pretty well known for its open gyms."
Nelson's looking forward to the challenge.
"It's how you get better, how you push yourself, by playing better players," Nelson said. "I'm looking forward to whatever happens next."
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