Saint Joseph’s legend and NBA all-star Jameer Nelson had finally made the decision to take the online courses necessary for him to receive his diploma on Saturday as a member of the Class of 2018.
Early, in the process, however, he found out the hard way that doing coursework as a professional athlete, husband, father and businessman was much different than when he was a student on campus on City Line Avenue 14 years earlier.
“The first class I took when I started was one on religion,” said Nelson, who played his senior year at St. Joe’s in 2004. “I’m a dad. I’m going to work and my regular life has taken over me.
“I forgot I was in class and went on vacation. I missed a week and I got an F.”
Ultimately, Nelson was able to drop that class and pick up another, but the experience brought him back to something Hawks coach Phil Martelli had told him a decade-and-half earlier, when the hype and expectations that went along with becoming Jameer Nelson were beginning to hit home.
“You have to manage your time wisely,” Nelson said of the advice Martelli gave him. “One of the reasons I went into his office that day was because I was struggling with things that were getting overwhelming. He put together something that looked like a timeline.
“He broke it down to me. He just said ‘You have to do better with your time. You have to manage things better.’ I’m a lot older now, and hopefully a lot wiser. I set aside the time I needed to get things done.
“That’s one of the things I’ve always carried with me from [Martelli] and the university.”
St. Joe’s isn’t a school like Duke, Kentucky or Kansas, which crank out NBA players on a yearly basis. There is no football program.
Every now and then, the Hawks turn out a player who becomes good enough to make a living as a professional athlete. But most of the athletes on Hawk Hill understand what the adjective “student” is about.
That’s why soon-to-be retired Saint Joseph’s athletic director Don DiJulia is just as proud of Nelson for getting his degree in sociology as he is for all the success he has had on the basketball court.
“The favorite thing in my position over the years was watching the dedication of student-athletes and seeing the joy when they succeed on and off the court,” DiJulia said, “(Nelson graduating) fits into that favorite part of the position.”