By Andrew Kahn

Roberto Nelson’s statistics improved across the board during his first three seasons at Oregon State: more minutes, points, field goal percentage, rebounds, everything. He started all 32 games last season and finished fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring. His coach, Craig Robinson, still saw untapped potential. During one practice, he called him a Beer League All Star, saying he would end up as a 35-year-old who dominated recreational leagues off his talent alone.

The message got through. The 6’4” Nelson hit the weight room, and now, in Robinson’s words, “has an elite Division I body to go along with his skill level.” The redshirt senior is down to a muscular 198 pounds and is one of the team’s hardest workers.

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It’s not that hard to see why the more talented people—in any discipline—might loaf. They don’t have to work hard to be successful, so many don’t. Basketball wasn’t the only thing that came naturally to Nelson. The Santa Barbara, California native was an all-state wide receiver in high school as well as a scratch golfer. Bowling, baseball, tennis—“he’s very good at everything he does,” Robinson says.

This was a gift and a curse: Robinson says Nelson “just competed; he never worked.” Now in his fifth year on campus, Nelson’s work ethic can’t be questioned. The results are undeniable: Nelson ranks third in the country with 24.7 points per game. A better measure of his performance—Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating—puts Nelson 12th among players with similarly high usage rates. His 4.9 assists per game are more than double his average from last season, though that’s partly because he’s playing both backcourt spots this season.

After scouting Nelson at an AAU tournament, Robinson, now in his sixth year in Corvallis, didn’t think he had a chance to snag a player so talented in his first recruiting class. He got him to visit campus, though, and the two had a long conversation that touched on everything except hoops. They talked about Nelson’s off-court interests and what he might do once his playing days were over. The First Lady’s brother-in-law didn’t talk politics with the youngster, but they did discuss current events. The conversation was a big reason why Nelson, a top-100 recruit, chose Oregon State.

The Beavers are 5-2 this season; their best win is at Maryland. They were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 in the media’s preseason poll. To compete in the conference, Oregon State will have to play better defense than it has the past couple of seasons, an area in which Robinson says Nelson continues to improve. Nelson and his teammates will have plenty of chances to prove themselves in big games this year. He’s put in the work; it’s time to reap the rewards.

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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