Ex-Kansas Final Four Star, North Dakota Native Sends Message to Grant Nelson

Grant Nelson

Getty Grant Nelson isn't the first player from North Dakota to make the Final Four.

As novel as a small-town North Dakota kid such as Alabama’s Grant Nelson in the Final Four sounds, it happened before.

Former Kansas star and Valley City, North Dakota, native Jeff Boschee helped the Jayhawks reach the Final Four in 2002. Boschee, who now coaches Division II Pittsburg State, shared his wisdom for Nelson, a Devils Lake native.

“Don’t change. Keep everything the main thing the main thing,” Boschee told WDAY as transcribed by the Forum. “You’re there to win a national title. You’re not there for the hoopla. You’re not there for the recognition. You’re there to win a national title.”

Hoopla for Nelson spread around the country this week after he helped Alabama oust Clemson in the Elite Eight on March 30. Nelson, a 6-foot-11 senior forward, has been a dynamic leader as he averages 11.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.

“I know one of the assistants at Alabama fairly decently in Ryan Pannone,” Boschee said. “I sent Ryan a text in the middle of the year and I told him to tell him tell Grant to keep representing North Dakota the right way. He’s doing a heck of a job.”

Jeff Boschee: ‘That’s Something I Always Took Pride in’

Boschee understands Nelson’s journey from obscurity in a small state that seldom produces top-end talent in basketball. In the 1990s, Boschee emerged as McDonald’s All-American at Valley City followed by four years as a starter for Kansas under former head coach Roy Williams.

“That’s something that I always took pride in is remembering where I came from,” Boschee said. “North Dakota is a small state and everybody knows everybody for the most part.”

The state has a population of 783,926 and both Valley City and Devils Lake are among the 12 biggest cities in the state. However, both are under 8,000.

Devils Lake has been celebrating all week, including a pep rally at the elementary schools on Friday. Boschee understands that dynamic, too, from Kansas watch parties in Valley City to unexpected visitors at Jayhawks games.

“People would come on the floor and introduce themselves and wave to me and say we’re from North Dakota, so that was pretty cool,” Boschee said.

Grant Nelson’s Time Arrived After Three Missed Chances

Before Alabama, Nelson developed a following after high school in his homestate with midmajor North Dakota State in Fargo. Nelson helped the Bison reach the Summit League championship game three years in a row — falling short each time.

Finally in the NCAA Tournament, Nelson has made the most of his opportunity so far mis 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. His biggest performance came against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 when he scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

“Grant’s season has kind of been up and down,” Crimson Tide head coach Aaron Estrada said via AL.com after the UNC game. “He’s been inconsistent here and there. But for him to play like that, in probably the biggest game of his career, it just says a lot. It’s a proven testament of his character.”

Nelson’s next challenge awaits in UConn’s Donovan Clingan, 7-foot-2, on Saturday. Clingan has been tough up front amid 12.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game.

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