St. Thomas freshman point guard Anders Nelson was selected National Rookie of the Year in Division III men's basketball by D3Hoops.com.
The Edina High graduate is the first men's conference player to receive this award in its 12-year history.
Nelson helped the Tommies win the MIAC championship, reach the national tournament Sweet 16 round, and finish 24-5.
He averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals, with a season-best 37 points in a three-overtime road win at Augsburg. He had five other contests with 20 or more points, and the Toms went 10-0 in games when he finished with 16 or more points.
Nelson also converted 80 percent at the foul line, and sank 45 from 3-point range He grabbed eight or more rebounds seven times, with a high of 11 against Macalester. He also recorded seven or more assists eight times with a high of 11 against UW-La Crosse.
"We're very proud of the freshman season that Anders had, and we're thrilled to see him receive this elite award, given that 427 teams compete in Division III," said Tommie coach John Tauer. "Anders contributed mightily to an MIAC title, another NCAA tournament appearance, and our defeat of the No. 1-ranked team in the country on the way to the Sweet 16.
"To say he had an excellent first year would be an understatement. Anders led us in assists, steals, and rebounds – a unique combination for a 5-11 guard. His activity level on the court reflects both his skill level, his quest for excellence, and his passion for basketball."
Nelson is just the third Tommie men's basketball player in the last 25-plus seasons to start every game as a freshman, joining Sean Sweeney (2002-03) and Tyler Nicolai (2007-11).
The last St. Thomas freshman athlete to win a similar national award was Volleyball's Kelly Foley in 2011.
Nelson and fellow St. Thomas freshman Riley Miller were voted to the five-player MIAC All-Rookie team this winter. The duo matched the accomplishments of three teammates: 2017-18 All-Rookie Teamers Burt Hedstrom and Ryan Lindberg, and 2016-17 honoree Elijah Hannah.
"To have a league-best five of the 15 players named to the MIAC All-Rookie team over three years reflects not only the depth in our program, but our willingness to play the best players, and the welcoming nature of our veterans," Tauer said. "Unselfish players don't feel threatened when freshmen have success. I like that our veterans view the contributions of newcomers as vital to the sustaining nature of the program."
Nelson was part of a deep team that jelled quickly and made an impression on the conference and national scene.
The Tommies were picked for fourth place in the preseason conference poll last November.
Unranked nationally, the Purple built a 21-game winning streak to take control of the MIAC race. That helped St. Thomas break into the top 25 rankings and eventually zoom all the way to No. 5 nationally.
St. Thomas eliminated No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Nebraska Wesleyan, 70-58, on the road March 2 in the NCAA tournament second round.
Besides ranking near the top of Division III in assist-to-turnover ratio, fewest turnovers, and made 3-pointers a game (11.4), the Tommies also broke a 45-year-old school record for scoring average (84.5 points).
"Awards such as this are a reflection of an entire program, and Anders would be the first to deflect credit to his teammates who set screens, got him the ball in advantageous positions, and offered advice and support all season.
"Our three senior captains did an outstanding job helping Anders and the other freshmen assimilate. Connor Bair, GT Johnson, and Michael Hannon each played integral roles in our success, grew and developed over their time in the program, and modeled the St. Thomas culture for Anders and the rest of the freshmen. Those three seniors went from freshmen on the bench of the 2016 NCAA championship team, to role players as sophomores, to starters and captains on one of the top teams in the country as seniors.
"That is precisely the evolution and development we aim for at St. Thomas – where players compete with and against the best every day as they grow from freshmen learning our culture to juniors and seniors prepared to compete at the highest level. Subsequently, they are ready to use the lessons they learned and the skills they honed at St. Thomas in their lives and career to advance the common good in our world."