Luke Nelson looks ahead to Belgium, Latvia, EuroBasket and life with the Lions
Luke Nelson’s first EuroBasket seems like such a long time ago now. Back in 2017, the then 22-year-old guard was fresh out of college and a new spark in Coach Joe Prunty’s side, since evolving into one of GB’s star talents and a key cog in the current roster.
That EuroBasket debut comes full circle next week as Nelson’s major tournament bow in 2017 came against Belgium – next Thursday’s FIBA World Cup Qualifying opponents – in a camp where the 27-year-old is vying for a place in the final roster for EuroBasket 2022 in Milan next month.
We caught up with the star guard ahead of the Men’s team coming together for camp to reflect on his GB journey and the role Belgium and EuroBasket has played in his growth as a player.
“I wouldn’t say I remember too much about that first EuroBasket game specifically, to be honest, but in terms of EuroBasket as a whole it was a huge experience for me.” Nelson said.
“Highly competitive, full of elite international teams and players who were doing everything to show what they could do, it was such a big stage for everybody and I enjoyed being a part of that.
“I was a lot younger back then and I was still kind of figuring my role out on the GB team. Coach Prunty had been there a few years by this point and his group solidified, so I was just trying to figure out my role within that and feel out how I could play with the team, but it was incredible to be there and compete at that level.
“I’m a completely different player now and have improved so much since then. That was my first year out of college and the way I see and approach the game is completely different. I understand the game so much better now and I actually look back at my games then and can’t believe I didn’t see or react to certain things. Physically I’m very similar, but mentally I’ve changed so much.
“We’re trying to solidify ourselves as a real force in the game.”
Following the Belgium game, GB will return to what has become their spiritual home in recent years as they head to Newcastle’s Vertu Motors Arena to take on Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia in the second of two World Cup qualifiers in this window.
Nelson has experienced some famous nights alongside the team on Tyneside, most notably in victories against Germany and Greece, and he reflected on how special it is to return to a place where he credits with having played a big part in the Men’s team’s surge in form over recent years.
“Playing for GB in any capacity is very special, but to get to do it in front of a community of fans who it feels like have been there with us throughout this recent period of growth and success is even more enjoyable.
“We’re trying to develop the culture around the Men’s team and solidify ourselves as a real force in the game, and the push for that has kind of started at Newcastle, so it is always special to go back there and perform in front of the people who have seen that development first-hand.
“Latvia have got some high-level players and I know some of their players well. We always want to play against the best players we can and I’m particularly looking forward to this game as I missed the chance to play against Latvia at EuroBasket five years ago as I was nursing a bit of an injury then, so I’m excited for that and Belgium and we’re going to do what we can to be successful.”
“It wasn’t planned for us all to end up there.”
Nelson is now one of a number of GB internationals set to suit up for the mighty London Lions this coming season, as he and a number of his teammates in Nate Reinking’s 24-man squad for the upcoming windows have signed on the dotted line for the Copper Box club this coming season.
The way the dominoes fell with one British star landing in London after the other, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was co-ordinated that some of GB’s best and brightest would join the Lions this off-season, but Nelson insists that wasn’t the case, and instead applauded London for making British players a focal part of their ambitions for a big season that lays ahead.
“I’m really excited to be a part of the Lions and to have such a strong group of GB players there now as well. I don’t think I’ve actually really processed all of it and what it entails, yet, because normally I come home, play for GB in the summer and then head off to somewhere else, but this summer I’m coming back to London after being away with GB and staying here so that is really nice.
“I think it is great how the Lions are trying to do something big in the 7Days EuroCup and they’ve actively chosen to go after some of the top British talents to be a big part of that roster, so that is really special and it is going to be important for the future of the game in this country.
“It actually wasn’t planned for us all to end up there. I saw that Ovie (Soko) had signed there but didn’t think anything of it, and then my agent got a call and I did my research on the opportunity before actually thinking it all made sense, so I joined too, but even then I didn’t know about Tarik (Phillip), so it has turned out great and I’m really interested to see how it turns out.”