NBA All-Star Jameer Nelson to Graduate with Class of 2018
Thursday, May 17, 2018
by Katie Smith '15
“Education will follow you farther than a basketball,” says Jameer Nelson ’18 on his decision to complete his undergraduate degree. “I would like to thank the University for believing in me.”
Saint Joseph’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball, Nelson will officially receive a Bachelor of Science in sociology on Saturday, May 19. He will walk across the stage in the Michael J. Hagan ’85 Arena beneath his retired No. 14 jersey, 14 years after being selected in the first round of the 2004 NBA draft.
“The University couldn’t be happier to count Jameer among our Hall of Fame and now among our alumni,” says University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D. “More than that, he models what we seek to instill in our students: a deep, lifelong appreciation for education, and that appreciation stuck with Jameer for all these years and will serve him well into his future.”
During Nelson’s time with the Hawks, the team reached the NCAA tournament three times, culminating with a perfect 27-0 regular season and a run to the Elite Eight in 2003-04. Nelson was the consensus National Player of the Year that season, earning, among other accolades, the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award.
Nelson withdrew from his final five classes during the 2004 spring semester amid the excitement and acclaim following SJU’s perfect season and, shortly thereafter, was drafted into the NBA. He re-engaged with the University in the summer of 2016 to complete the coursework for his degree, earning credits online while playing for the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Detroit Pistons.
“Among my favorite things in my position over the years has been watching the dedication and joy of student-athletes succeeding on and off the court,” says retiring Vice President and Director of Athletics Don DiJulia ’67. “This is definitely one of those special moments.”
For Nelson, the hardest part of returning to his undergraduate studies was fear: “At a certain time in my life, I knew I was going to be a professional basketball player,” he says. “I wasn’t scared to go to the NBA. I was scared to come back and finish my degree.”
A sociology major, Nelson completed online coursework in his major, as well as electives in leadership and theology, including a 37-page thesis “Nationalism in the U.S.: Factors Influencing Feelings of Immigration” and an independent study “Race and Professional Sports.”
“One of the most important classes I completed was in leadership,” says Nelson, a native of Chester, Pennsylvania. “I learned how to empower people to hold themselves accountable. Hopefully, it will help me out when I retire and decide to coach, work in the front office or otherwise contribute inside the game of basketball.”
Off the court, Nelson dedicates his time to his family and community. In particular, his nonprofit, the Pete and Jameer Nelson Foundation, provides academic, social and athletic development to student-athletes in the Chester and greater Philadelphia region.
“At Saint Joseph’s, we hope our students leave Hawk Hill inspired to use what they were given and what they learned here to do something for other people,” says Dr. Reed. “Jameer does that. We are proud to be able to say he’s a Hawk.”
Nelson will cement his college and professional career this weekend, along with nearly 2,200 fellow graduates.
“I have the same feeling right now that I had a few days before the draft,” he recalled in Thursday’s press conference. “I just keep telling myself not to trip.”