Stevens: Nikki Nelson Hopes For One More Season of Injury-Free Ball
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  12/17/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Dec. 17, 2010

Nelson's Dribbling Exhibition

Lobo Women's Basketball - On The Road
6 p.m., Lobos at Texas El Paso
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In glancing at her future as a Lobo, Nikki Nelson will be happy just running down The Pit floor and giving up that seat on the bench she is holding down for a second season: the out-for-the-season seat.

She also is hoping that any future sparks associated with her game are references to a fiery shooting touch and not her dual knee braces banging together and showering The Bob King Floor with a Nikki Nelson light show.

"I really don't want to be running down the floor with two braces on my knees," said Nelson. "But I'm coming back to play for sure."

It's likely that Nelson will be wearing at least one brace and it will be strapped to the left knee that buckled on her prior to her freshman season of 2007-08. That was Nelson's first season on the dreaded out-for-the-season seat.

Nelson came back strong from that injury only to spend a lot of time on the pine for two more seasons as All-Mountain West Amy Beggin ran the point for coach Don Flanagan. Nelson took the sub time about as well as expected from an intense competitor.

She averaged 8.6 minutes in 2008-09 and 9.1 minutes of playing time in 2009-10. Beggin averaged 35.9 minutes last season. But Nelson also had a light at the end of her tunnel that suddenly was right there in front of her heading into this season.

Beggin had graduated.

"I was so excited to be looking at a year in which I wasn't behind Amy," said Nelson. "I worked so hard all summer to be ready and then . . . It was a bummer."

The bummer this time was her right knee. It wasn't damaged as badly as her left knee, but the ACL tear still took away the 2010-11 season. The setback hurts in more ways than one.

First, it took away the Beggin-less season in which Nelson was a frontrunner to inherit the point. Second, the Nelson-less season opened the point for freshmen Tina Doughty and Jasmine Patterson to find valuable playing time. Those pups have looked good and Nelson will be in another battle for playing time in 2011-12.

It probably would have been easy to look at the scars on a second knee and decide that there was more to college life than basketball. "Things like that run through your head," she said. "But I'm not the type to hang something up until I'm ready.

While Beggin was the main reason Nelson sat the bench the past two season, the ex-Lobo also was Nelson's inspiration for off-season workouts. Beggin wasn't the greatest athlete to ever don a Lobo jersey, but her fiery leadership was complemented by a super-fit body. Beggin could run and run and run.

So, this past summer, Nelson ran and ran and ran. "Amy was the Energizer Bunny and she never stopped moving," said Nelson. "I knew I had to come back fit, so I did a lot of running and a lot of long-distance running."

As a Lobo, Nelson is hoping her highlight reels are in front of her and they don't include sparks flying off dual braces. She also earned basketball notoriety for her dribbling exhibition that got her an appearance on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and also a halftime gig during halftime of a Seattle Supersonics' game.

Nelson honed her dribbling as a kid on two plywood sheets her father doubled up and screwed to her floor of her bedroom. Nelson's ball handling skills and her fiery competitiveness on the court made her D-I material and moved her from Washington to The Pit.

In a way, The Pit is still a lure to her, still teasing her talents. She has watched too many other Lobos run that floor.

"I want my turn," she said. "My left knee came back fine and I'm confident the right knee will come back fine. It's difficult to sit on the bench, especially after you already did it for a season. You want to be out there so badly.

"I think it's harder this year because I was really amped for this season. But I came here all the way from Washington to play basketball and I still plan to do that. I want to come back and have one good, fun year and have it injury free."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at rstevens50@comcast.net.