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He's played alongside Steph Curry, now Dan Nelms hopes to win an Irish title this weekend

And he’ll come face-to-face with a former collegiate team-mate.

Thunder's Dan Nelms stopped playing basketball for five years.
Thunder's Dan Nelms stopped playing basketball for five years.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

RIGHT NOW, THERE’S no better basketball player on the planet than Wardell Stephen Curry II, known to everyone else as ‘Steph’.

Curry was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) when he guided the Golden State Warriors to National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship victory last season. This year, the Warriors and Curry are well on course to repeat the feat.

Curry was the son of a former NBA player but his father Dell was by no means a superstar so, while there were some expectations he could make it as a pro, nobody, not even his team-mates in college, could see him scaling these heights.

One such team-mate is Dan Nelms who also played college basketball for Davidson and who, this weekend, will line up for GCD Swords Thunder when they take on Templeogue in the Hula Hoops Men’s National Cup final.

“By the time he got to Davidson, he wasn’t super well known,” Nelms told The42 this week.

Pretty early on though, we knew he was going to be a really good player for us. He started his first game, so that’s a good sign, but I don’t think anyone could tell you he would become what he has become though.

“He really took full advantage of what we had at Davidson to really work on his game and, you can still see now, six or seven years into his career in the NBA and year-on-year he just gets better and better.

“He clearly was talented, he knew the game so well from growing up around it and he just has this great natural feel. He’s always balanced and in complete control and, even on some of the ridiculous shots he makes — if you look closely — you can see he’s perfectly balanced taking the shot.

“That helps him be the player he is and helps him shoot with such consistently high accuracy and, whereas other guys will see their consistency go up and down, his always seems to remain among the best in the league.”

Duke Davidson Basketball Steph Curry during his time with Davidson. Source: AP/Press Association Images

One reason Nelms feels Curry is doing so well now is that he took his time to learn how to really play basketball over three years at Davidson, and wasn’t a so-called ‘one-and-done’ player who only spent the mandatory one season in college before getting to the NBA as soon as possible.

It’s also what attracted Nelms to shooting hoops in Ireland.

“I’m a big fan of team basketball and, what I love about the sport is that, when it’s done right, it’s all about a team that gets together, grows together and plays together at the highest level they can.

“Now, not every team in the US fits that profile and I guess I also understand what it’s like for the guys who don’t want to stick around college for four years in case they get injured and miss out on a big contract.

“It’s a tough thing and I don’t think there’s anyone to blame but my experience at Davidson showed me that camaraderie and teamwork can go a long way to making a team better. So I’ve always sought that type of environment and it’s part of the reason I didn’t initially pursue any sort of basketball after college.

“I saw all my team-mates — and pretty much all of them went to the NBA or some overseas league — and some of them had awesome experiences but others kind of just bounced between teams and I’m not sure how much they grew from it.

“But one of the nice things about Ireland is that you get to play at a high level but there’s also a little bit less pressure — there’s not many guys getting cut midway through the season for example — and if you get injured, you can still be around the team.

“And a lot of the Irish guys have been playing together since they were kids so there’s a good atmosphere around the team. I really like that.”

Dan Nelms Nelms played a role in defeating UCC in the semi-finals. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Another reason Nelms loves playing with Swords is that it affords him the opportunity to retain his full-time job but still play the sport he loves. For him at least, it’s a much better experience than floating around some of the world’s far-flung professional leagues.

The bright side is that you get to travel the world, experience a lot of different cultures and you get paid to play a sport you love. There are a lot of positives to it.

On the flip side, it can be a hard on guys who travel around, playing here and there, and competing until their body won’t let them play any more and that can be really, really tough were you’re 30 and you can’t do normal stuff because you pushed yourself so hard.

“That’s one thing I’m really conscious of and I was really lucky because I had interests outside of basketball but for those who don’t, those who have put their whole life into the sport up to the point they can’t play any more, unless they coach, it takes those guys a long time to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives once they finish playing because it’s a long time to be out of the normal workforce.”

At 6’10″ (2.08m), Nelms has heard all your jokes. No, the weather’s no different up there. Yes, he knows he’s tall. But despite always having a height advantage over other kids, it was actually two very different games that dominated his sporting landscape at home in Boston.

“I grew up playing soccer and baseball but, around 13 or 14, I started to get a little more seriously into basketball so I switched over and put a lot of effort into it from there. Before that though, I spent so much time playing other sports that I barely made my freshman ‘B’ basketball team,” he jokes.

“I get asked about my height a lot, particularly walking around Dublin, but I guess I don’t notice it too much. It’s not until you’re hanging out with people you don’t normally hang out with that you notice it because they’ll usually point it out as if it was a surprise to me.”

Conor Grace Nelms is looking forward to taking on former team-mate Conor Grace tonight. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

While Curry may be his most illustrious former team-mate, on Saturday night he gets to face off against another when he comes up against Templeogue’s Conor Grace who may be one of the most unheralded Irish sportspeople of the past decade.

It’s a match-up Nelms is very much looking forward to, especially as the Dubliner is one of the reasons he started to play basketball again, five years after leaving college.

“I’m really excited to be playing against Conor. When I came here, I wasn’t originally planning to play basketball at all but I connected with Dave (Baker, his head coach) and the Thunder and then I connected with Conor.

“He’s a really good friend of mine. It’s really cool to have that connection here. To have someone I can chat with about our time at Davidson and all the stuff we have in common is great, but it’s really special to get to play against him for a national title.

“That’s pretty cool.”

GCD Swords Thunder take on Templeogue in the Hula Hoops Men’s National Cup Final at the National Basketball Arena at 8pm tonight (Saturday). Tickets are available here.

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Steve O'Rourke

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