The life of a college assistant coach is anything but sedentary. Whether it’s a head coaching change at the previous institution, poor performance or simply a leap towards the next step in the coaching dream, moving from house to house, city to city and state to state often, is part of the job.
Even by those standards, though, Marquette’s Brett Nelson is beating the curve. Nelson has called five states home since 2010, moving from West Virginia to Arkansas to Iowa to Indiana and finally to Wisconsin this May. With a wife and son in tow, it has taken a toll on his family, but has not been without its rewards.
“For me, I’ve grown a lot. Sometimes when you go through adversity and you go through tough times, you do a lot more growing as a person and as a coach than when you do when you’re winning and things are easy,” Nelson told Paint Touches. “I think that’s made me a better coach. That’s made me stronger, made our family closer.”
Nelson credits his wife for not only understanding the business but providing the support needed when homes need to be packed and re-packed on an almost yearly basis.
“I can’t give my wife enough credit,” Nelson said “She’s the rock of our family.”
But according to Nelson, Marquette is not another pit stop. After seeing four conferences and being a part of programs that are not as basketball focused, he believes he’s at a place with the resources and commitment to “put his roots down” and be at “for quite a while.”
“From an outsider’s point of view and from a national standpoint, Marquette has great tradition,” Nelson noted. “When I got here, I saw this place has really good people and they are committed to basketball. They want to do everything within reason and their powers to help our program. Just the people from campus to the athletic department, you add that to how coach Wojo is going to operate and run this program, it’s a great thing. We’re excited.”
New head coach Steve Wojciechowski and Nelson have had a passing relationship during their coaching careers, but their connection goes back even further. As an All-American high schooler coming out of West Virginia, Nelson visited Duke before ultimately committing to Florida. His host during that visit? Steve Wojciechowski.
And even though fellow assistant coach Mark Phelps knew Nelson from their time at Drake together (where Phelps was the head coach) it was Wojo who reached out to gauge Nelson’s interest.
“He called me and we just kind of hit it off,” Nelson said. “We talked for about an hour one night. Next thing I know I was at an interview here and kind of snowballed from there.”
His focus thus far has been on recruiting. This is where Nelson’s vagabond journey through the coaching ranks can come to help him.
“From a recruiting standpoint it’s been good for me. I’ve got contacts from all over the country having played the game and then working at a lot of different places, Nelson noted. “I wouldn’t consider myself a one geographic area guy. If you can recruit, you can recruit nationally, and Marquette has a national name.”
With the potential NCAA changes separating the Power Five conferences from the rest of Division-I, that national name and the resources behind it will have to be put to good use. Though Nelson hasn’t seen many questions from recruits up to this point about the potential impact of these changes on Marquette and the Big East, he doesn’t believe much will change from the way things are now.
“I know that at Marquette, we’re going to do whatever it takes to stay cutting edge, to stay above the bar and do everything we can to compete with anybody in the country, which is what we’ve always done … We’re going to do everything that the quote “Big 5″ conferences are doing. That’s not going to affect us.”
Nelson is part of a staff that has plenty of experience on the floor and is not so far removed as to forget what it was like out there.
Together with Chris Carrawell (assistant coach), Travis Diener (director of player personnel), Justin Gainey (director of basketball operations), Wojo and Tyler Thornton (graduate manager), they comprise a fairly young staff that is filled with previous playing experience and accolades at the highest levels of college basketball.
The photos filtering out of the AL McGuire Center and onto social media have shown the crew playing pickup games and working out on a regular basis, even going into workouts with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith as a group.
“As a staff sometimes it’s two guys, sometimes it’s eight or nine guys in there. Coach Smith will put us through a 45-minute to an hour, very good workout,” Nelson said. “It’s another way to stay in shape. We’re young. It’s almost like being a player again. You get energy from each other. “
It all starts at the top, and through one summer, players and coaches agree the results from Coach Wojo have been exemplary.
“He’s done a great job, number one in the aspect that he’s a great communicator. He’s a guy made of integrity. He’s upfront, he’s honest. You always know where he stands. As an assistant, we know the expectations that he has of us and of the program. He’s great at communicating that.”
This process and method of working has refreshed a squad after a trying season and tumultuous coaching change. The staff has focused on individual and small group workouts to increase skill level, according to Nelson, resulting in a team that has embraced the new staff with “open arms and open ears.”
And although the lack of scrimmage and full team settings has made it difficult to measure progress of one player against another, Nelson highlighted embattled point guard Derrick Wilson as someone who has made notable improvements, putting up over 20,000 shots this summer and buying into the shooting program put together for the team.
“You take a guy like Derrick Wilson, he really committed himself. He’s never shot like that in his life, taken that many shots and worked on his game. That can only help him and build confidence. He’s not the only guy, but just an example.”
For now, Nelson will focus on getting a balanced 2015 recruiting class with some size and players that fit into the culture being fostered on and off the court. He also plans on getting to know Milwaukee better, as he’d only visited for brief recruiting trips prior to taking the job.
If he has his say, the days of cross country moving vans will be a thing of the past and he’ll get to know Brew City quite well.