Dismissed from UCLA and after a sub-par five weeks playing professionally in Lithuania, Reeves Nelson's basketball future remains uncertain. Where does Nelson go from here?
This has to be the first time in the history of basketball that a player went from gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated to showing up on the side of a milk carton all within a four-month span.
Welcome to Reeves Nelson's world.
It's easy to get caught up in the plethora of tattoos and sad storied antics surrounding his dismissal from the UCLA Bruins earlier this season and forget that Nelson's basketball future is in a state of uncertainty that not even the NBA Draft on June 28 will solve.
He went from Los Angeles to Lithuania and back again in the course of five weeks; a taste of pro basketball overseas that the former Pac-12 star most likely will scoop up once again after this coming summer.
But how did it even get to this point where Nelson is M.I.A.?
How did the 6-foot-9 power forward go from drawing comparisons as a junior in some NBA circles to former Bruin and Minnesota Timberwolves all-star forward, Kevin Love, to a disappearing act on multiple mock draft boards?
Last season at UCLA, Nelson was the teams' leading scorer (13.9 points per game) and rebounder (9.1) on his way to earning a first-team All-Pac-10 selection and eventually being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2012 College Basketball preview issue. Sadly enough Nelson would make front page news for all the wrong reasons soon after the magazine dropped.
He was suspended for a game against Middle Tennessee State in November, missed the team flight to Maui for the Maui Invitational, was suspended for the first half of UCLA's first round game against Chaminade, then was benched in the second half against Texas on Dec. 3.
A little over a week later, head coach Ben Howland had seen enough.
Nelson was officially dismissed from the program.
By course of his actions, Nelson was forced to grow up very fast leaving school at 20-years old. It's rarely been a question about his on-court abilities, but Nelson's mental mindset is a different story. He started working with this his former coach at Modesto Christian, Gary Porter, and prepared for his next move.
Would it be a wise one?
Speculation mounted then that Nelson would consider transferring schools, but money won out in the end in the decision process as Nelson and his family began talking with an unspecified team in Lithuania about playing overseas for the rest of the season. While Zalgiris Kaunas, Rudupis and Siauliai were all believed to be vying for Nelson's services, the official announcement came three days before Christmas.
Zalgiris - with former Portland Trail Blazers Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis serving as team president and boasting Sonny Weems at swing guard - waited until they made the Top 16 Euroleague cut before signing Nelson and at the time Zalgiris' sporting director Vitoldas Masalskis wasn't concerned with Nelson's character issues at UCLA saying, "a basketball player is supposed to be fierce".
Being fierce is one thing.
Nelson's stay in Kaunas was more farce-like unfortunately.
In seven games with Zalgiris, Nelson averaged 2.5 points, 3.3 rebounds in 10 minutes per game.
He shot 28 percent from the field, went 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, and shot 56% from the line. His best game (the above clip) came against BC Astana where Nelson finished with 7 points and 7 rebounds in 11 minutes, an outing that somehow contributed to fans around Lithuania voting him into the Lithuanian Basketball League All-Star game.
The final scouting report out of Lithuania: unimpressive and inconclusive.
"He spent only 61 minutes and 22 seconds playing for Zalgiris, spread through seven games that he actually came on the court", Simas Baranauskas, a featured writer for FIBA.com who also operates LithuaniaBasketball.com and EuroStep.net, told Ridiculous Upside.
"You could see his athleticism, but generally, he hardly did anything on the court. Zalgiris was hoping to add size, but obviously that didn't go too well, as it turned out that Nelson was shorter than they thought."
On January 31, Zalgiris released Nelson after spending five weeks in Lithuania.
The truth is, the team saw everything they needed to see of Nelson weeks prior.
Looking at two Euroleague games in mid-January that Zalgiris competed in can best summarize Nelson's mediocre stint overseas. In an 84-76 loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Nelson went scoreless with two rebounds in four minutes. After logging a DNP- Coach's Decision against BC Nizhny Novgorod in VTB United League action, Nelson didn't even travel with the team to Italy, with Zalgiris eventually losing to Bennet Cantu, 79-78.
And that's where the discrepancy comes into play. That's where not much growth has occurred on or off the court.
Probably knowing he wouldn't play or would only receive a few spot minutes in Euroleague action, Nelson remained in Kaunas complaining he hurt his leg. Those close to the situation simply call Nelson's bluff and inability to accompany the team on the trip. Instead, the common belief is the writing was on the wall for Nelson and his duration in Lithuania would be temporary.
So what are Nelson's permanent basketball plans now?
Are pre-draft workouts part of the schedule? Can he expect an invite to summer league in Las Vegas or a D-League camp even?
Does a second chance at a first impression overseas become the back-up plan?
The mystery that is Reeves Nelson continues.