(Editor's note: UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. - It may be common in the United States for a football player to transition to basketball, but what about a native of Ireland, who was Gaelic footballer transitioning to the court? Well, Wyoming newcomer Eoin (Owen) Nelson is showing those skills transition to the hardwood.
The 6-10, 225-pound forward is only in his fourth year of playing basketball on a regular basis. What has he done in those four years? Well, Nelson represented his country in the FIBA Under-18 and Under-20 European Championships. He also made the transition in basketball in the United States with a strong season at Otero Junior College.
“It’s an honor to represent my country on the collegiate stage,” Nelson said. “I feel like also doing so on one of the highest levels of collegiate basketball like the Mountain West is even better. Basketball in Ireland is a growing sport, but to come to America and place like Wyoming where we have such great fan support is special for me. It was one of the biggest reasons on making the decision to come to play in Wyoming.”
Nelson grew up in Dublin, Ireland and played Gaelic Football, which is an Irish team sport that is a blend of numerous sports that is played at a fast pace. It is played between two teams of 15 players on a rectangular grass pitch. The objective of the sport is to score by kicking or punching the ball into the other team's goals (3 points) or between two upright posts above the goals and over a crossbar 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) above the ground (1 point). Players advance the football, a spherical leather ball resembling a volleyball, up the field with a combination of carrying, bouncing, kicking, hand-passing, and soloing (dropping the ball and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands).
Gaelic football is one of four sports (collectively referred to as the Gaelic games and is a sport that involves running, dribbling, jumping and toughness and it made an easy transition for Nelson.
“I feel like a lot of sport that uses a ball translate to basketball,” Nelson said. “Gaelic Football translated because it is played on a bigger field and you always have to have your head up and look for where the pass is coming from. I got great vision from Gaelic Football by being able to read my teammates where they were at all times. But I also learned on improving my hands on the ball and jumping. It also helped me become a leader with such a large field players have to be able to scream across the pitch to communicate.”
“Gaelic Football is also a very physical game,” Nelson said. “I also played rugby and a game called hurling. All three of those sports helped me with the physical aspect of basketball.”
Nelson transitioned to basketball. At the U20 European Championships, Nelson added 9.7 points per game and six rebounds. At the U18 European Championships, Nelson recorded 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in 10 minutes of action per game. He played club basketball for UCD Marian in Dublin, as he helped lead his team to the National Club Finals in 2018.
His play at the international level got him noticed by junior college coaches in the United States. He felt that Otero Junior College in Colorado was the best fit for him to grow as a basketball player.
“I started playing basketball seriously four years ago and for my play I was brought on to the Irish U18 and U20 National team,” Nelson said. “Being a basketball player, playing in America is the best place to play. I had many coaches reach out to me, but I felt Otero was the best fit and it turned out to be the best spot in the end.”
Nelson’s play got the attention of the Cowboy coaching staff, he fit a need for the Pokes in the recruiting class. Last season at Otero, Nelson added six points per game and 5.8 rebounds per night. An aggressive offensive player in the post, Nelson shot 58 percent from the field. He recorded 22 points against Laramie County Community College for a season high. He grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds against North Platte Community College.
“My journey to Wyoming was very difficult,” Nelson said. “I got a foot injury early last season, I knew I had 20 or more games to prove myself to show what I was capable of doing. A few coaches started to reach out and after the season was over and I got sent back to Ireland due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Coach Linder and Coach DeWeese contacted me and showed interest in me as a player, but most importantly they wanted to get know me personally. They also wanted to know my interest as a human being. I knew they weren’t recruiting me just to be a basketball player, but make me a better person overall. Wyoming was a good fit for me and my future.”
When he hits the Arena-Auditorium floor, Nelson will be the 10th European player to wear the Brown and Gold in the MW era for the Pokes. He will also become the 32nd player from Ireland to play NCAA Division I basketball.
“Fans are going to see a competitor,” Nelson said. “I will go after every loose ball and every rebounding. I will make sure I will do what I can for us to have the best chance to win the game. I will compete to the last second and run the floor as hard as I can and make sure my teammates know we have to stand with each other. Basketball is not a one person game, the game revolves around the team. We all have to work together as one.”