Spectacular soph-to-be will boost football, basketball teams
St. Mary’s boys’ basketball coach Jose Caraballo is always upbeat. But on Thursday, he was even more effusive than usual.
“I’m the happiest coach in California becuase I’ve got a state championship ring on my finger,” said Caraballo, whose team won the Division IV title in March. “Now we’ve increased the possibility of getting another one.”
Caraballo was talking about the fact that his team just gained one of the best players in California. Freshman DeMarcus Nelson, who played football, basketball and baseball for Vallejo High this year, made his transfer to St. Mary’s official this week. Nelson was the Cal-Hi Sports freshman of the year for basketball and threw for 1,700 yards and 27 touchdowns in part-time quarterback duty during the football season.
“He’s accomplished so much at such a young age, the only person I can compare him to is Jason Kidd,” said Caraballo, who coached Kidd at St. Joseph’s during his prep years in Oakland. “He’s just a great addition to our team and our family.”
According to Nelson’s father, the transfer has been in the works nearly since the school year began. He said DeMarcus really only went to Vallejo because it was his sister’s senior year at the school. But friction within the basketball team and Vallejo’s history of poor academics convinced the family that DeMarcus would only spend one year there.
“His mother really wanted him to have an opportunity to get a quality education,” said Ron Nelson, DeMarcus’ father. “His mother and I went to St. Mary’s, looked at campus, talked to administrators, and her mind was made up and she never wavered. DeMarcus realized that it was in his best interest to go after the education and opportunities St. Mary’s offered.”
“There was just a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on, so we decided to look for another school,” DeMarcus said. “We did a lot of research and found out that St. Mary’s was the best.”
Nelson termed his reasons for the move “about half athletic and half academic.”
Among the problems at Vallejo was a group of seniors that “didn’t want to accept him because he was young,” Ron Nelson said. “The older players figured it was their time to shine, but DeMarcus is an unusually talented kid.”
Nelson is currently playing AAU summer basketball for the Slam ‘n Jam Oakland Soldiers, where he is teammates with St. Mary’s guards John Sharper and DeShawn Freeman, who will both be seniors next year. Caraballo expects no similar problems when Nelson joins his team.
“Our kids bottom line is that they want to win. As much as we run and shoot, there are enough shots for everyone. They don’t care who scores,” he said.
One thing Caraballo does expect is allegations of recruitment by the St. Mary’s athletic staff. Nelson will likely be the starting quarterback next season, as well as a key link for a basketball team that will be moving up to Division I to challenge the top teams in the state. One of the Oakland Soldiers’ coaches, Mark Olivier, is also an assistant coach at St. Mary’s. Observers may find that coincidence hard to take. But Caraballo dismisses such talk.
“There will be rumors about recruiting and all that crap, but that just doesn’t wash,” he said. “The family looked at other schools and decided on their own that DeMarcus should come here. Besides, DeMarcus will be a stud and All-American candidate anywhere he goes.”
Olivier pointed out that Nelson isn’t just focused on athletics. An honor roll student at Vallejo, Nelson wants to get his academics in order for a college scholarship, which St. Mary’s should help him achieve.
“A lot of people don’t realize that at St. Mary’s, you have to be a pretty darn good student to get in, especially as a transfer,” Olivier said. “The school sold him, the academics, even baseball and football programs. It was a no-brainer.”
Just thinking about his team next season made Caraballo cackle with glee. Nelson will fit nicely into the spot vacated by wingman Jeremiah Fielder, the team’s lone graduating starter. In fact, Nelson wears the same number, 21, as Fielder. But while Fielder was mainly a defensive stopper, Nelson adds the dimension of a scorer to take the pressure off of Sharper and Freeman.
“Now we’ve got a kid who can defend just as well, if not better, and go for 20 points a night,” the coach said with a huge grin on his face. “I guess now I truly have the best backcourt in the state. How are they gonna guard all my guys now?”