Sa'eed Nelson savoring results of his loyalty to American University
(Originally published in The Press of Atlantic City on 2/28/2020)
Wednesday night brought the ultimate reward for Sa’eed Nelson’s time and dedication to American University.
Entering the Eagles’ home game against Lafayette, the 2016 St. Augustine Prep graduate needed two points to become the program’s all-time leading scorer. Less than two minutes after tipoff, his mid-range jumper started what would become a 30-point night for Nelson in his team’s 79-59 win.
Improving American to 15-13, the win secured a top-three seed and a home game in the Patriot League Tournament. It is the team’s highest seed in Nelson’s four seasons at the university.
“It was an unreal feeling,” Nelson said by phone Friday afternoon of the record. “Before the game, the team did our normal routine. I told the guys, ‘Don’t worry about (the record). We need this win to secure third place.’
“I guess scoring the bucket early kind of got it out of everybody’s mind, and we just played and we ended up winning the game by 20.”
The Pleasantville resident had plenty of hometown support in Bender Arena. Friends, family and former St. Augustine teammates made the trip to Washington, D.C., to witness history.
Jeff Nelson, Sa’eed’s father, wore a Kobe Bryant T-shirt to the game. The two are Los Angeles Lakers fans, and Jeff said it’s evident whenever Sa’eed steps on the floor.
“When it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” Jeff said. “He’s one of the nicest kids you could ever meet, but on the court, he has the ‘Mamba mentality.’”
Throughout Sa’eed’s time at American, he’s heard the voices of those questioning his decision not to transfer to a larger Division-I school. The team had a total of 14 wins throughout his first two seasons, and teammates were transferring all around him. He averaged 18.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game his sophomore season, establishing himself as a force at the collegiate level that, according to Jeff, could have gone to “a lot” of different schools.
But when he signed that national letter of intent in 2016, the plan was simple: Sa’eed would be an Eagle through thick and thin.
“This is the school I chose to come to,” Sa’eed said. “I love the area. I love everything about it, so I wouldn’t want to change that just because we were losing. I knew what our team was capable of, and last year proved it.”
His father said the decision was a prime example of the kind of young man he is.
“He’s a loyal kid, man,” Jeff said. “He said, ‘I’m going to make it work for me here,’ and he made it work for him there.”
Last year, the 15-14 Eagles earned the fourth seed of the Patriot League Tournament after finishing the year before 6-24. After their regular season finale at Holy Cross on Saturday, they will seek their first Patriot League Tournament win since the 2015 season.
Sa’eed is just appreciating the moments while they’re still here.
“This is me and (fellow senior Mark Gasperini’s) last year, so we understand what’s at stake,” Sa’eed said, “and I think we just take that every day into consideration when we’re coming into practice, just knowing it could possibly be our last practice.
“It’s a great feeling to be going into the tournament one of the top teams, but we’re taking it very seriously.”