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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A Hawk for life

Jameer Nelson at St. Joe’s 2018 undergraduate commencement ceremony (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

Jameer Nelson graduates with the class of 2018

The last graduate’s name was called in the College of Arts and Science, applause erupted and Hagan Arena rose to their feet as Jameer Nelson’s name was called.

Fourteen years after being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, former St. Joe’s men’s basketball player Jameer Nelson officially graduated as a Hawk.

Nelson’s name is one echoed throughout Hagan Arena, a name that is placed above the number fourteen, a name that touches the hearts of teammates, coaches, family members, classmates and strangers, and a name that has proven to be historic.

Jameer Nelson receives his degree at St. Joe’s 2018 undergraduate commencement ceremony (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

Nelson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in sociology on May 19, after completing his final credits online while playing in the NBA. He walked across the same hardwood floor where he brought joy to many students and fans years ago.

“My favorite part was seeing my wife and kids smile,” Nelson said. “I enjoyed coming into this room and seeing everyone that supported me throughout my career.”

Nelson’s on-court selflessness was put on display for the world to see after St. Joe’s historic 24-0 season came to an abrupt end in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“My ultimate goal was to be the best teammate anyone ever had,” Nelson said after the defeat.

Nelson’s actions off the court also give way to a selfless approach to life. By coming back to earn his degree, Nelson kept others in the forefront of his mind.

“I did it for my family, friends, my home back in Chester and St. Joe’s,” Nelson said.

Nelson with his family after receiving his degree (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

St. Joe’s men’s basketball Head Coach Phil Martelli, who was both a coach and mentor for Nelson, emphasized how incredibly proud of Nelson his is for earning his degree.

“It’s the most remarkable accomplishment of a remarkable life that is really just starting,” Martelli said. “He’s at the highest level in terms of a basketball player, the highest level as a father and the highest level as a son. Of all those things, this is his greatest achievement.”

Nelson said he always felt as though he could get to the NBA but he was never certain about earning his degree.

“I have the same feeling now when I was about to get drafted,” Nelson said before graduation day. “It’s the nervousness of not knowing what to expect. This to me is the biggest accolade that I could receive.”

For St. Joe’s Athletics Director Don DiJulia, watching student-athletes like Nelson succeed is his favorite part of the position.

“Finishing an academic career takes a lot of behind the scenes work,” DiJulia said. “I find joy in watching others be joyful for accomplishing something they want.”

After years of coaching, Martelli saw Nelson’s potential as a player and a person. Both of them have remained prominent figures in each other’s lives.

“He is one of the most remarkable people that I’ve ever been around,” Martelli said. “He has done so much for our school, for our program and for my family and I. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have him in my life.”

Throughout the process of completing his degree, Nelson didn’t know what to expect, but he continued to pursue his degree to set an example and accomplish yet another personal goal.

“We don’t all realize that everyone is leading in their own way,” Nelson said. “One of the most important things that I took away from this whole experience was how to empower people.”

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