A former All-American at Florida, Nelson comes to Ball State after assistant coaching stops at Marshall, Arkansas and, most recently, Drake. He has worked in college basketball for eight seasons, including six on the bench as an assistant coach.
“I am thrilled to have Brett on our staff,” Whitford said. “I worked really aggressively to get him here because he is such a talented coach. He is familiar with the Midwest, and he is someone with whom people can really connect. He has coached in the Southeastern Conference, Missouri Valley Conference and Conference USA, so he is tested. Brett has worked for people I know well, and he has high character and integrity.”
Nelson spent the past two years at Drake, highlighted by a 2011-12 season when he helped the Bulldogs, coached by Mark Phelps, to a tie for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake earned its first postseason victory in 37 years with a win in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Before his time at Drake, Nelson coached the 2010-11 season at Arkansas under head coach John Pelphrey. He helped the Razorbacks to a third-place finish in the SEC Western Division.
“I am excited about this opportunity,” Nelson said. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Whitford. He is a great leader who comes from a great pedigree and has learned from the best. He has always been involved with winning programs.
“Ball State certainly has proud history, and (athletic director) Bill Scholl has a vision for the future of the program. The arena and the campus are beautiful. The structure is in place for us to do some special things, and I feel like it is the right time and the right place for me.”
Nelson’s first assistant coaching job came in his home state of West Virginia at Marshall, where he spent three seasons from 2007-10 working under head coach Donnie Jones. He helped Jones turn around the Thundering Herd program, culminating with a 24-10 campaign in 2009-10. That Marshall team became the first in 22 years to reach the postseason by earning a berth in the CIT and posted the program’s best conference finish in nine years at third place in Conference USA.
Jones was then named the head coach at UCF following the 2009-10 season, and Nelson briefly followed him to Orlando before receiving the opportunity to join the Arkansas staff.
Like Whitford, who was introduced as Ball State’s head coach April 10, Nelson brings a reputation to Muncie as a skilled recruiter. While he was at Drake, the Bulldogs signed a class ranked No. 45 in the country and second in the Missouri Valley by HoopScoopOnline. A year earlier, he played a key role in Arkansas landing a class ranked among the top 10 nationally. At Marshall, Nelson was instrumental in the recruitment and development of Hassan Whiteside, who earned C-USA freshman and defensive player of the year accolades before being selected in the 2010 NBA Draft with the 33rd overall pick by the Sacramento Kings.
As a player for Billy Donovan at Florida, Nelson was a three-year starter and a member of four NCAA Tournament teams, including the Gators’ 2000 team that reached the national championship game. He completed his career ranked first in school history in 3-pointers made (274) and attempted (689), second in steals (199), sixth in assists per game (3.16) and 14th in points (1,416).
“Brett’s background as a player, growing up in the gym, will really be an asset for our guys,” Whitford said. “He also played for Billy Donovan, one of the best coaches in our game, and brings a skill set in terms of X’s and O’s that will be very valuable.”
Nelson finished second in the SEC’s Most Valuable Player voting as a freshman in 1999-2000. He was a third-team All-American by ESPN.com and an honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press in 2000-01, and he later was a preseason semifinalist for the Naismith Award as a senior in 2002-03.
After his collegiate career, Nelson pursued a professional career in Sweden before breaking onto his first college staff. He spent the 2005-06 season as the director of basketball operations at Colorado State for coach Dale Layer and held the same position at VCU in 2006-07 for Anthony Grant before landing his first assistant position at Marshall.
Nelson is a native of St. Albans, W. Va., where he was a McDonald’s All-American and the state’s player of the year as a senior at St. Albans High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Florida in 2004. He and his wife Jamie have one son, James.