October 18, 2012

Hall of Fame Week: Nelson Was 'Missing Link' For Syracuse

by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com

Tim Nelson joined Syracuse after N.C. State dropped its men's program. He helped his new team to its first NCAA title in 1983, and his 221 career assists remain an all-time NCAA record.

One of the greatest National Hall of Fame classes of all-time will be inducted this Saturday night at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md. The 2012 induction class is comprised of Jen Adams, Roy Colsey, Brian Dougherty, Missy Foote, Kelly Amonte Hiller, Jesse Hubbard, Tim Nelson and Cindy Timchal. Each will take their place among the game's greatest at a black-tie optional, US Lacrosse event. Tickets are available here for Saturday and a Friday golf outing.

Check back to LaxMagazine.com all this week as we celebrate the eight inductees.

Monday: The Immortals of Maryland | Tuesday: Middlebury, Foote Perfect Match | Wednesday: Professional Grade

It was 1982. N.C. State had just dropped its men's lacrosse program. Tim Nelson had nowhere to play. He sat on the steps outside his alma mater Yorktown (N.Y.) High when Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. pulled up in a blue pick-up truck.

"I was working on the grounds of Yorktown High that summer," Nelson said. "He was down for an art show. He picked me up."

The next three years were a pretty good ride for one of the best feeders the game has ever seen.

"They called Timmy the missing link," said Nelson's brother Scott, who graduated after playing one season with him at N.C. State. "He brought everything together. They needed that kind of guy."

Nelson started his record-breaking career at Syracuse by helping his new team to its first NCAA championship in 1983. He scored two goals and dished six assists in the final, a 17-16 victory over Johns Hopkins. The Orange reached the title game his last two years as well, and Nelson established Syracuse records for assists in a game (nine), season (67) and career.

"I really didn't have a feeder," Simmons said. "Timmy fit in quite well. He had outstanding peripheral vision. He's probably the best I saw."

Including his freshman year at N.C. State, Nelson's 221 career assists remain an NCAA record today. Many of those went to Syracuse standout Brad Kotz, whom Nelson will join in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame when he's inducted Saturday.

"I'm grateful to be selected," said Nelson, now the assistant vice president of advancement at Utica College. "The timing is great. My kids are old enough to appreciate it, and my parents are still in good health to see it."

Simmons said Nelson's selection was long overdue. But it was a logistical issue with paperwork, not an oversight by the selection committee, that kept Nelson off the ballot so long.

"Once the process started correctly with him," said Fred Opie, a voting member who played with Nelson at Syracuse, "it was a slam dunk."

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The middle but biggest of three boys – younger brother Tom also had a terrific career at Syracuse – Nelson played point guard in basketball and had Division III offers. He also was quarterback in football before taking up lacrosse in eighth grade and starting varsity in ninth grade. He had to play on the left side, and it forced him to learn to play left-handed.

It helped that Nelson had vision measured at 20-15, better than perfect, and he knew how to use it from his other athletic experiences.

"My father used to coach us in basketball, and he'd tell us in the huddle, make the other guy look good," Nelson said. "In lacrosse, I played behind the goal a lot. One of my strengths was having field vision, and I could see a couple plays ahead."

Nelson called all of Syracuse's extra-man plays, and he was most dangerous in unsettled situations. Kotz and Todd Curry, another Hall of Famer, were his favorite targets. Opie likened Nelson to Magic Johnson with his ability to thread behind-the-back and look-away passes.

Nelson did not play after graduating from Syracuse. He injured his knee in the 1984 NCAA final — a 13-10 loss to Johns Hopkins — and he said the injury still bothers him. Nelson had coaching stints at Syracuse and North Carolina as an assistant, and then Dartmouth and Utica as a head coach. But his greatest impact came as a transfer player to what was then a nascent Syracuse program.

"I was blessed that N.C. State dropped the game," Simmons said. "Otherwise I never would have had a chance to coach Timmy Nelson. He's very important to my career and Syracuse's history of lacrosse."

This article appears in the October issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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