LOGAN — Ask Spencer Nelson for his professional basketball resume, and you're likely to get exhausted just listening to the extensive rundown.
"I played in Europe for 10 years in four different countries: Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece," the former Aggie great says as he begins to make use of most of his fingers. "And for, OK, let's see … one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight teams.
"It was a fun ride," Nelson adds. "A fun, fun ride."
Renowned for being ultra-positive and for his upbeat attitude, it's hardly a surprise that the longtime Utah State fan favorite views the last decade of his life as a "fun ride." However, Nelson also failed to mention that over the past 10-11 years, he graduated from USU with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, got married, completed his MBA at Utah State, fathered four children and made a couple of serious runs at making the roster for the Utah Jazz.
And now Nelson's back in Cache Valley where he and his wife, Julie, hope to create even deeper roots for themselves and their children: Hannah, 8; Logan, 5; Tommy, 3; and Violet, 4 months.
"This place has been home," declares Nelson, who was named a member of USU head coach Tim Duryea's coaching staff back in August. "We didn't live here, but we always came back to Logan during the summer because we have so many friends here, and it's such a wonderful place with great memories.
"So, we're excited to be here and hope it lasts for a long time."
After retiring as a player in the summer of 2015, Nelson lived in Bountiful while working in downtown Salt Lake City as an associate director at Cicero Partners. Always interested in business — he was far more likely to look at the Money section of USA Today than the Sports section during his playing days — Nelson appeared to be right where he wanted to be, looking for investment opportunities for a private equity group.
"That was a great experience working for Cicero," says Nelson, who also provided commentary on the Utah Jazz for 1280 The Zone sports radio last season. "I worked with really, really smart people, was doing really interesting things and was learning a lot.
"But I really missed basketball. I enjoyed doing Jazz stuff, but I really thought I would get into coaching eventually. I just thought it would be years down the road when my kids were older."
But while attending a barbecue for former Aggie players hosted over the summer by a USU booster in Preston, Idaho, Nelson got to talking with Duryea, who mentioned that Chris Jones was leaving his coaching staff to become the director of basketball operations at the University of Utah. Nelson says he initially put together a list of potential replacements to share with Duryea, but after calling USU's second-year head coach the following day, he was surprised to discover that he had been included on Duryea's short list.
"I hadn't even expressed any interest," Nelson says. "But he said I was a candidate, so we had conversations over the next couple of days and things just kind of came together. It went really, really fast. And I obviously wasn't the typical hire, not coming from the coaching ranks."
Originally recruited by Larry Eustachy out of Pocatello High in Idaho, Nelson played forward for the Aggies during Stew Morrill's inaugural season at Utah State in 1998-99 before serving an LDS Church mission to Oklahoma. After returning home, Nelson was sidelined for a year by a torn ACL — the same season Duryea was added to Morrill's staff — then he went on to complete a standout collegiate career that resulted in him being named to USU's Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015 at the tender age of 35.
"First and foremost, Spencer is an Aggie," Duryea says of his newest coaching hire. "And not only that, he's an Aggie great. He was a phenomenal player, and the best leader as a player that I have been around in 15 years at Utah State.
"He has a passion not only for basketball, but for this institution. He came here, got his degree, got a graduate degree, did an internship on Wall Street, and had a 10-year pro career overseas. I don't think there is anyone more qualified to sell what Utah State University can do for a student-athlete than Spencer Nelson."
Joining a coaching staff that includes Tarvish Felton (eight seasons at USU) and Louis Wilson (one season), Nelson's primary focus on the court will be helping Wilson coach defense while also coaching Utah State's big men. He'll also oversee recruiting in Utah and Idaho while also trying to expand the Aggies' influence in Europe.
"His personality is tailor-made for coaching," Duryea says of Nelson. "He is energetic, enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and, as a player, was a player-coach throughout his collegiate and professional career.
"He has always looked at the game from a technical side, is very intelligent and a great basketball IQ. He is a home-run hire and a future superstar in collegiate coaching."
Nelson said that he likes this year's USU team "a lot" and is enjoying coaching Duryea's brand of basketball, a style that is definitely his own, but also borrows from Morrill, who retired in 2015 after 17 years as the head coach at Utah State.
"I think Tim's style is kind of the trend in basketball in general, having a flow on offense with a lot more four out-one in, where your four man can stretch the floor," Nelson says. "That's actually really European, which is where I ended up in my game. But there's still some Coach Morrill in there. We still have sets, and there's an emphasis on discipline and our offensive and defensive principles. So, I think it's a good mix.
"I've talked to Coach Morrill several times," Nelson adds. "He's been great. But honestly, I should probably talk to him more — probably every day — so I can get some pearls of wisdom from the best coach I ever played for."
Nelson is still in the process of moving his family up to Cache Valley, alternating between commuting back and forth from Bountiful and crashing at the home of former Utah State teammate John Neil so he can work at the office until late into the night. He says he's really looking forward to being under the same roof again with his children and Julie, his former family home evening mother who he met his senior year at Utah State.
They managed to stay together during his first season in Europe before getting married during the offseason, and now Nelson will be putting those same skills to use as an Aggie basketball coach.
"I'm generally a positive guy; I'm generally an optimist," Nelson notes with a smile. "And that's something I need to bring to the coaching staff for this team, is just to infuse positivity and energy and build our guys up. That's a role I'm excited to embrace, and hopefully I'll do a good job at it."