Adrian Nelson has the talent to impact games, but until Dec. 19 the senior forward for the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team hadn't been able to singlehandedly suspend one.
That was the night that the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Nelson broke a rim on a two-handed slam dunk during the second quarter of a game at Groveport. The force of the dunk caused the rim to collapse at a 45-degree angle, and that in turn forced the game to be suspended until Tuesday, Jan. 16, after officials determined the rim could not be saved.
Video taken by a fan went viral, helping the play become No. 4 on ESPN's Top 10 plays later that night and garnering more than three million views within a week.
"I came down harder than usual. I had no idea at all that could happen," Nelson said, chuckling as he recalled the dunk, after which he casually glanced back at the rim and walked down the court as play was halted. "A lot of people reached out to me. ESPN and Sports Illustrated tagged me on Twitter and so did some other news sources. It's a great feeling, actually, to be known worldwide for something I did for our team."
Coach Eric Krueger said the moment was indicative of the energy he wants Nelson, a University of Detroit Mercy recruit, to bring to the court, even as Krueger shook his head thinking about what he'd seen.
"We thrive off that," Krueger said. "When he gets going in transition, that's a big deal."
Notoriety aside, Nelson is filling just the role Krueger envisioned. Nelson was averaging 13.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists through nine games for Central, which was 6-3 overall before playing Westerville South on Jan. 9 and is 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
Nelson is trying to take full advantage of the first season in which he has been a spotlight player for the Tigers. He started four games as a sophomore before a stress fracture in his back ended his season, and last year averaged 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as Central advanced to a Division I state semifinal.
That team was led by 2017 graduate Sterling Manley, a center who now plays at North Carolina, and junior point guard Jeremiah Francis, who committed to the Tar Heels in August.
Francis has missed the entire season with a right knee injury but is expected to return within the next two weeks.
Nelson battled a few back problems in September and October but said he was fully healthy to start the season.
"I want to be more of a leader, and I have to be on both ends. I have to provide more," Nelson said. "There's not more pressure on my shoulders, just more of a mature role. Last year, I was a role player, but now I feel like more of a key component."
Forward Juan Elmore said Nelson's leadership on and off the court has improved.
"He's way more vocal during games. His jump shot is better and he's a much better dribbler and defender," Elmore said. "He's more physical and he boxes out well."
Nelson -- whose older brother, Chad, was a guard on Central's 2012 Division I state championship team and played four seasons at Ohio Dominican -- put on 20 pounds of muscle after last season and received 17 scholarship offers before committing to Detroit Mercy on Sept. 17.
"I expected him to have a big year and he's living up to that," Krueger said. "We want Adrian to be more aggressive offensively and be more of a force overall. He will continue to grow in that role.
"He has to be a stat-sheet stuffer for us. It's not just points. It has to be rebounds and assists, too, and making an impact defensively. Whereas we might have wanted six rebounds (a game) from him last year, now we need eight. Instead of three assists, (get five), or instead of 14 points, 18. Whatever the case, we are asking for more with him and we'll continue to push him."
Swimmers prep for Northeast Classic
Swimming coach Justin Dortch isn't surprised Paige Christy has emerged as perhaps the girls team's top swimmer.
"She's done two-a-days with us and her club team and even with that much work, she continues to crank out solid performances at every opportunity," he said. "There are other kids like that, too, who are emerging as team leaders and have been stepping up big the past few weeks. We need that to keep happening."
Christy, a sophomore, is among eight Tigers who will swim in the Northeast Classic on Saturday, Jan. 13, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
She led the girls team in the Cloverleaf Stampede Invitational on Dec. 30 at The College of Wooster, finishing eighth in the 100-yard freestyle (1 minute, .89 seconds) and ninth in the 200 free (2:14.03) as Central scored 10 points to place 12th of 16 teams, behind champion Pickerington North (291).
On the boys side, Nathen Eberhardt won the 100 butterfly (55.05) and 500 free (5:03.43), and Brett Eberhardt placed third in the 200 free (2:00.1) and fourth in the 100 backstroke (1:02.37) as Central scored 87 points and finished eighth of 19 teams, behind champion Richfield Revere (162).
In the Northeast Classic, Brett Eberhardt will swim the 50 free and 100 free, Nathen Eberhardt will compete in the 100 back and 200 IM and Jason Orr will swim the 100 back and 200 free. Joey Held will join each of them on the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
On the girls side, Christy will compete in the 100 back and 100 fly. Other individual competitors are Kolya Larson (50 free, 100 breaststroke) and Natalie Reed (100 fly). Each of them will join Paige Burton on the 200 free and 200 medley relays.
Swimmers must meet time standards to qualify for the Northeast Classic. Branin Natatorium is the site of the state meet, which will take place Feb. 21-24.
Combined with the North swimmers Dortch also coaches, 31 of his programs' 78 total swimmers are heading to Canton.
The remainder will compete that day in the Central Ohio Splash Invitational at Ohio Wesleyan.
"I'm proud to coach some immensely talented swimmers," Dortch said. "There isn't a squad I have that isn't talented. I expect a lot out of all these kids."
Wrestlers stand out at Scioto tourney
The wrestling team will carry momentum into the beginning of OCC-Ohio competition this week, as nine top-four finishes powered Central to 206 points and second place in the 12-team Kevin Cleveland Invitational on Jan. 6 at Dublin Scioto, behind Westerville North (240).
Bo Branson (106 pounds), Trevor Mangahas (113) and Silas Pearson (170) won championships to lead the Tigers. Noah Dotson (132), Carter Wade (120) and Marcus Zullo (145) were runners-up, while Grey Brancifort (220) and Keaton Middendorf (138) placed third and Jimmy Castro was fourth at heavyweight.
Brancifort was one of a handful of wrestlers who sat out December competition after helping the football team win the Division I state championship.
Central will take on Gahanna and Reynoldsburg in league action Thursday, Jan. 11, at North. The Tigers, who also will participate in the Porter Memorial Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 13, at Hilliard Bradley, will not wrestle the Panthers until Feb. 8.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 12 -- Home vs. Gahanna
Jan. 15 -- Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont
Jan. 16 -- At Groveport. Completion of game suspended Dec. 19.
*Jan. 12 -- At Gahanna. The Tigers defeated the Lions 59-53 on Dec. 5.
Jan. 15 -- North Canton Hoover in Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland
*Jan. 12 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 17 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Capri Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 13 -- Central Ohio Splash Invitational at Ohio Wesleyan and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 13 -- Porter Memorial Tournament at Hilliard Bradley