There were times during his junior season the Reggie Nelson looked like he'd be the heir apparent to Allen Huddleston.
It made sense.
The Merced guard was a natural scorer, blessed with a quick first step and a silky jump shot.
As showcased in Friday night's Sac-Joaquin Section first-round playoff victory over Sacramento Kennedy, Nelson opted for a different rout in his senior campaign.
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Nelson still led Merced in scoring on the season with 15.9 points per game and is capable of taking over a game on any given evening, but he's every bit as content doing the team's grunt work to ensure a win.
Nelson's nine points in Merced's 77-60 victory aren't going to jump out of the box score, but his five rebounds, five assists and four steals set the tone in his team's first step towards another Arco Arena appearance.
"I'll take my shots when they come to me, but my first look is to set my teammates up," Nelson said. "When we get everyone on the team involved we get results like tonight.
"Maybe I could look to score a little more, but I think we're a better team when everyone is getting involved."
It's hard to argue with the results.
Otis Caery (team-high 16 points) and Tyrone Bowie (14) did the bulk of the heavy lifting for Merced offensively.
Five different Merced players scored at least nine points against Kennedy as it built a 33-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
With Nelson leading the way, Merced dissected a young but good Kennedy squad in the second half with tenacious defense and unselfish passing.
Merced coach Marcus Knott said Nelson's led by example all season.
"Reggie is a kid who could easily put up 20 shots a game and average 20 points, but that's not the role he wants," Knott said. "Some night he is going to score big, but he's content doing whatever it is we need him to do to win.
"As a leader and a captain he demands that of his teammates, because he's already doing it himself."
With Grace Davis and University of the Pacific looming in the second round, Nelson knows his role only becomes more demanding from here.
"What I learned last year at UOP is that everything is just bigger," Nelson said. "The gym is bigger. The crowd is bigger. And you need to play bigger.
"For me it all starts on the defensive end. If I can shut down my man and set that tone, everybody else responds.
"We want to get further than the semifinals this year and I'm going to keep doing whatever I can to help make that happen."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.