It's nearly 6,000 miles between Kaunas, Lithuania and Los Angeles, California, but for Reeves Nelson the distance traveled between the two cities doesn't fully compare to the crazy journey toward the NBA he finds himself on these days.
Think about it. Remember where Nelson was in December of last year? Bounced from the college game and trying to figure out how to navigate the pro waters overseas within 30 days. That's some serious sinking or swimming action.
Now compare that to where he is today.
Nine months later Nelson can steadily plan for being a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they open training camp on October 2.
That was the plan all along -- to make it to the NBA, even if it meant a non-guaranteed deal heading into camp.
Reaching this juncture of Nelson's long road to the league almost didn't happen.
Nelson had "behavioral problems" at UCLA and was dismissed by head coach Ben Howland after he was suspended for a game against Middle Tennessee State earlier in the season, missed the team flight to Maui for the Maui Invitational, was suspended for the first half of UCLA's first round game against Chaminade, and then was benched in the second half against Texas on Dec. 3.
This is the same guy who was named to the All- PAC 10 first team following his sophomore year and averaged 12.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 27.0 minutes (68 games) during his college career.
Nelson's days at UCLA were numbered. It reached a breaking point six days later when he was officially sent packing -- literally and figuratively.
By the end of December, Nelson had signed overseas in Lithuania with Zalgiris where the tattooed 6'8 forward planned to use his time as a pro as a stepping stone into the 2012 NBA Draft. Instead, Nelson was hit with a bit of a rude awakening in Kaunas.
In seven games with Zalgiris, Nelson averaged just 2.5 points, 3.3 rebounds in 10 minutes per game.
At the time, Zalgiris' sporting director Vitoldas Masalskis wasn't concerned with Nelson's questionable past at UCLA. Masalskis said ‘a basketball player is supposed to be fierce'.
Perhaps he should have mentioned something about a player being able to produce too.
Check the numbers: Nelson shot 28 percent from the field, went 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, and shot 56% from the line. His best game 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.
And you thought the NBA balloting system was the only all-star tally out of wack.
The final scouting report out of Lithuania on Nelson: unimpressive and inconclusive.
Yet despite the rough experience on the floor in Lithuania, going undrafted didn't deter Nelson from pressing on. Because after you strip away all of the drama that unfolded at UCLA, the talent level remains the same. The guy can play. That's not the question. The concern is, can Nelson go about his business in a professional manner in basketball without jeopardizing his career and squandering the talent he's been blessed with?
Nelson was able to at least land a summer league gig with the Los Angeles Lakers. In three games, he averaged 4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. The feedback from the coaching staff and those within the organization was positive: he played with purpose and desire.
This week, Nelson learned he'd parlayed that summer league stint into a one-year non-guaranteed deal and training camp invite with the Lakers.
Knowing how far Nelson has come - from UCLA, to Lithuania, to his $10-million defamation lawsuit filed against Sports Illustrated, to a training camp invite with the Lakers -- the fact that his story has come full circle back in Los Angeles really is a compelling tale.
The only thing probably more captivating is if he actually makes the team out of camp.
And if not, look for Nelson to begin a new chapter to this wild story: the D-League years.