|Call him the mystery man of the Euroleague season so far. His first trip ever outside of North America landed Spencer Nelson in Bamberg, Germany, just 48 hours before that club's first game ever in the Euroleague. In the three weeks since then, Bamberg has an impressive 2-1 record in Group A, while Nelson is simply the league leader in performance ranking. A small forward whose game can only be described as dynamic, Nelson leads Bamberg in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals at the moment. His 11.3 rebounds per game are second in the Euroleague, while he also ranks in the top 12 in both assists and three-point percentage. In short, Nelson is doing it all, and as he says in this Euroleague.net interview, he thinks that Bamberg and he can do even better. "I don't know if 2-1 is already an accomplishment," Nelson told Euroleague.net. "In my eyes, we're doing OK and we could be 3-0 if we had played a little better against Benetton. Maybe ignorance is good in this situation and from my standpoint."
Spencer, you signed a couple days before the season started, now here you are three weeks later leading the performance rankings. Are you at all surprised how things are going so well?
"I don't know if surprised is the word. I feel lucky and blessed that things worked out for me. After getting cut by the Utah Jazz, I wasn't sure where I would end up. Then Bamberg came along and made an offer, and now I feel lucky to have found a team playing in the Euroleague. I think I have a great team and so far we've been able to play well, but I think we can do better, too."
What did you know about the Euroleague before you decided to join Bamberg?
"I knew very, very little other than what my agent had told me, that the Euroleague is considered to be for sure the second-best league in the world, next to the NBA, that it's a great opportunity to play against the best players in Europe and also to get a lot of exposure. I knew that if I wasn't in the NBA, I wanted to be in the Euroleague, but that's pretty much all I knew."
And what did your teammates and coaches have to say before the first game in Italy against Benetton?
"Well, they didn't have time to tell me a whole lot, because I flew in from the States on Tuesday and we flew out on Wednesday morning to Treviso. I didn't even have 24 hours in Bamberg. But what they did say was to expect a physical, hard game. Other than that, I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than high-level basketball. I just figured I had to approach it like any other game or competition I've played in, by working as hard I as can. It was too bad we didn't get that first victory, but Benetton played well and deserved it more."
You hopped off the bench in that first game and really started making things happen immediately. You were just comfortable immediately or is yours the kind of all-around game that adapts easily to all circumstances?
"It's a combination of a lot of things. First, I am really comfortable in the system that Coach Bauermann runs and I fit well into that. Also, I have always tried to be a multi-dimensional player, and not limit myself to one or two things I do well, whether it be scoring, defending or rebounding, but to try to do everything. In college, I was somewhat successful at doing that and I think now that the style of European basketball fits my game pretty well. I've been able to do it here so far, but give credit to the system and my teammates, who have opening things up and making it easy for me to adjust."
Where you come from in Pocatello, Idaho, is long way from Europe. How is the transition so far off the court?
"Considering this is my first time ever out of North America, it has been good. I have quite a few American teammates and a couple of them speak German well, so they've helped me get around, and the people in Bamberg that I've met so far have been great, very welcoming. The truth is that we play ball so much, there's not too much of outside life to enjoy yet, but what there has been so far has been good."
We call you a rookie, but you're already 25 and played college ball later because of the two-year religious mission while you were at Utah State. How much did being older help you in university basketball and now with this new step in your career?
"I think being older has definitely helped me. Maturity is a valuable thing. I know that if I went four straight years through college, without taking those two years off, I would not have had the kind of career I had at Utah State. The two years serving my mission were also in North America, but being away from family and friends, out of your comfort zone, prepared me for different experiences. This is another one, coming to Germany and adapting quickly without big adjustments so far. Basketball-wise, maturity helps a lot as well, in dealing with teammates, getting along, and especially in figuring out the team concept. A younger player maybe will worry about his own stats, but as you get older you realize that the most important thing is winning as a team. So altogether, I think age and maturity have helped me quite a bit."
What are your first impressions of Euroleague basketball?
"What I've seen so far has been impressive. It's definitely a big step up from college basketball. There are a lot of talented players over here who present a lot of different challenges, whether you are guarding them or going against them on offense. I am very impressed at the level and quality of basketball here, even just watching film on teams we haven't gotten to play against yet, like Tau and others, who I am very excited to play against soon. There are a lot of great players and the quality here is very high."
Of course, it's all about winning, and you've helped Bamberg go 2-1 so far. Do you realize how much of an accomplishment that is already for the club in its first-ever appearance in the competition?
"I really don't, to be honest. I think it's really important to have high expectations of yourself and your team. I don't know what the expectations were before we started, because I wasn't around long enough to hear what people expected us to do. So I don't know if 2-1 is already an accomplishment. In my eyes, we're doing OK and we could be 3-0 if we had played a little better against Benetton. Maybe ignorance is good in this situation and from my standpoint. I think we have good team that gives a balanced effort. If 2-1 is an accomplishment, great. But there are still 11 games left and I expect to help make sure we win as many as we can. I don't want us to be complacent or expected we can be happy with just 2-1."
Maybe you don't have much to go on yet, but having started so well, what are your hopes for the rest of the Euroleague season?
"I would kind of go along with what our coach Dirk Bauermann has said, that our goals are to play well, the best that we can. I haven't seen all our opponents yet, so I don't know how we matchup. But I think we're a quality team with capabilities, if we play like we can, defending, rebounding and taking high percentage shots. If we do, I think we can get past the first round. Hopefully, we'll move on and see what happens from there."