By: Ethan Fuller
Katie Nelson dribbles the ball up the floor with her left hand and gestures for a play with her right, transmitting a signal from head coach Marisa Moseley. Her eyes are methodical and mechanical as she scans the defense and internalizes the scheme before driving inside and flipping a pocket pass to Nia Irving for an easy bucket.
Then Nelson gets a stop on defense and rallies the Terrier offense for another run. Then she does it again — and again, and again — for the entirety of Boston University’s victory over the University of Albany.
Nelson played all 40 minutes for the fourth straight game last week. After Tuesday’s loss to Harvard, the junior point guard has been on the floor for 194 of 200 possible minutes this season. From an outsider’s view, Nelson could be a machine — the court mapped out in her mind, the anticipatory vision automatic, the even-keeled endurance superhuman.
But Nelson’s steady presence masks the intense competitive drive and preparation she hones before each matchup.
“You never know what’s gonna happen or who’s gonna get in foul trouble or who’s gonna have to be put in a position to play those last five minutes,” Nelson said. “We’ve done a great job prepping for games and honestly, it’s paying off.”
Some of that stamina can be attributed to the rigorous standards set in practice by Moseley, her staff and the whole team. Summer laid the foundation for high-intensity preseason preparation, and practices are consistently at game speed for hours, making the 40-minute contests an easier physical task.
Playing entire games in reality, though, also requires a hungry mentality. Nelson’s drive symbolizes the culture the Terriers have adopted as a team: attack every game, prepare for every game, and expect to win every game. Each time the point guard suits up, Moseley can see Nelson’s fire.
“She loves games,” Moseley said. “You know, she’ll practice hard, and she has practiced way harder since I got here, but when the lights come on, she’s a gamer.”
“It’s a goal for our entire team to win a championship, and that starts from the first game of the season,” Nelson said. “And taking it one game at a time and trying to get a W — 1-and-0, 1-and-0, 1-and-0.”
Nelson has earned her role through the surgical precision stemming from her high basketball I.Q. She diagnoses defenses on every half-court setup, searching for the best way to exploit her team’s advantages.
“If we have a mismatch — if we want to get it to Nia [Irving] in the post, or if Syd [Johnson] can blow past her defender — put them in a position to do that,” Nelson said.
“She just sees the game, and if she doesn’t see what I see, she can see it pretty quickly when I show her, and then she remembers.” Moseley said. “She has an incredible memory.”
The Terriers feature plenty of new faces this year, including Johnson and Annabelle Larnard as freshman starters. Summer helped foster trust throughout the roster, and Nelson now appreciates the “edge” that comes with a young, energetic squad.
“We’re really gritty; we’re really scrappy,” she said. “With each game comes a little bit more experience and the chemistry grows each day.”
As an upperclassman and captain heading such a young team, Nelson also bears great responsibility as a mentor. But the point guard is loaded with leadership experience. Nelson cited 2018 graduate Corinne Williams as a player who instilled confidence in her as a freshman. Now Nelson wants to carry the torch.
“People look towards her as a leader,” Moseley said. “The point guard often gets that, but she also has a quiet confidence on the court and the kids know she knows what she’s talking about, and the way she delivers her message is not overbearing to them.”
“You know, the little things: taking them aside, telling them something that I’m noticing, or even just noticing the little things they do well,” Nelson said. “I think that’s really important.”
Nelson had already been tested as a leader before this season began. When Lauren Spearman stepped up into a major role last year as a senior, she had never averaged more than 10.1 minutes per game in a college season. Meanwhile, Nelson had already grown accustomed to high usage, and used her knowledge to boost the two of them.
“I think that was almost preparation for this year,” Nelson said. “Having five new freshmen and a transfer this year, I was comfortable teaching them because I had Lauren to kind of learn together with last year.”
Building these relationships is critical, not only for developing a team bond, but also for accelerating communication on the court. BU uses switches frequently on defense, and Nelson must lock in to perform individually and direct her teammates while receiving almost no rest.
“Communication is one of the most important things. When you get tired you forget to call names and things of that nature, so being able to focus in at the end when it really matters — we need to all be on the same page,” she said.
The most important connection — and the one that defines her role as a high-usage point guard — is between Nelson and Moseley. Nelson cherishes her position as a “liaison” between the floor and the bench.
“Trust is a big part of it. She has trust in me and I have trust in her that she’s putting us in a position to be successful,” Nelson said.
“I think we have a really great relationship, on and off the court,” Moseley said. “We can communicate pretty quickly, and I listen to her if she sees something.”
Against Albany, Nelson asked Moseley to switch their offensive attack on a key possession after looking at the Great Danes’ defense. Moseley listened.
“Then she made the shot, and we had this moment,” Moseley said. “It was pretty cool.”
Nelson still has room to grow in year three. Both she and Moseley have stressed that this year’s Terriers are emphasizing a fast-paced transition game, and Nelson’s job as a lead distributor is to find teammates while limiting turnovers on the run.
Part of forming a lethal attack as a point guard also involves balancing facilitation with being a scoring threat. Nelson has started off the year in a slump, shooting just 30.8 percent from the field through five games, but her collegiate history shows she can score.
“She’s a great passer, but you gotta be able to be a threat out there, too,” Moseley said. “And when she does that, in big games, you see she’s got that ability.”
Nelson understands this as well.
“I think a lot of the time I try to put people in a position on my team to be successful, but not forgetting to look to score as well is important because that’ll help the team out as well,” she said.
Playing just about every minute of every game is unsustainable (though Nelson did average 38.3 minutes played across the 2018-19 season). Moseley recognizes this and said she’s looking to find the junior more opportunities for rest to keep her fresh.
But while Nelson proved she is human by admitting she can get exhausted “sometimes,” the confidence in her preparation and ability makes the Terriers’ point guard ready for any workload.
“We work on our conditioning every day, and I think that gives us an advantage over other teams. If they can’t keep up with us, they’re going to get tired.”
And when the opponent is tired, they are only more vulnerable to Nelson’s internal database of basketball knowledge.
Featured image courtesy of Hannah Yoshinaga.