Luke Nelson is back after spending too much time kicking his heels over the past 12 months.

Gently, by necessity, following an ankle surgery that left the Great Britain guard sidelined for almost all of last season.

Not what the 24-year-old had envisaged when he returned to Gran Canaria last off-season in the expectation of an extended shot in the Spanish ACB following a year out on loan.

A planned step forward, and then a hobble back.

“To get better at basketball, you need to play basketball,” he reflects. “I haven’t done a whole lot of that.”

Now, the re-imagining of Nelson has begun with a brief summer stint on national duty that continues tonight with GB’s third EuroBasket pre-qualifier of this mini-campaign – against Kosovo in Manchester, where a win will be enough to deliver promotion and top spot in the group to Nate Reinking’s men with a round to spare.

Despite the minimal game time, the new head coach has thrown him merrily back into the fray.

Rust, inevitably, has still to be shaken off, with Nelson averaging a valuable 9.5 points in the two games so far but at a three-point clip of only 21 per cent.

Still a little off, he reflects.

“It’s frustrating when things I’m normally good at, I’m not as effective at. I’ve got to put it in perspective and realise I’ve been out a year. For me, that’s still really annoying but I’m going to get there.

“Nate has put confidence in me and that means a lot. So I need to repay his confidence with some good performances.”

Same for his colleagues, who only really clicked in the fourth quarter in last Saturday’s defeat of Luxembourg and who toiled at times in their prior 71-63 triumph in Kosovo.

After a few days off, Reinking brought his charges back together in Manchester with a first real chance to refine and install and to look a little further ahead than his next meal.

“It’s been kind of fun,” Nelson grins. “Some guys have played together before. Some haven’t but everyone knows each other and they’ve seen each other play so you kind of know what everyone likes. But it’s different on the court and it’s been fun learning what they like and what their strengths are.

“I don’t think that really falls on one person. It falls on us all. And Nate, he wants us to move the ball and move unselfishly. He knows that’s how we going to win. Play defence, push the floor, not just with the dribble, mostly the pass, because you can pass faster than you can dribble it.”

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A victory over the visitors would remove any absolute imperative to win in Luxembourg in the group conclusion next Wednesday.

Not really the prime ambition now. With a short preparation spell before February’s opening EuroBasket 2021 qualifiers, this is the best training camp GB can get, especially with Reinking’s availability for that window very much up in the air due to his NBA G-League commitments.

All the more reason to lock in, Nelson acknowledges.

“That is what we’re doing: to build and start. We want to progress here but that’s not the end-goal. Our end-goal is to make it back to EuroBasket and have a better tournament than we did last time. It’s all about building on every performance.”

It will be required if and when they meet the likes of Montenegro, France and Germany in the next phase. Defence, above all.

Yet to dare to concentrate on what could be may be to overlook the Kosovans who hammered Luxembourg 109-88 in mid-week to put GB into pole position.

“We know we have a talented group and that we can be a great team if we can work together,” Nelson affirms.

“But right now we’re focusing on the next couple of weeks. We’re not looking too far ahead because we’ve seen these teams can beat us if we don’t focus how we should.”

His own motto too, of sorts, as he plans his return to Gran Canaria and the opportunity to make a case for re-inclusion in training camp.

It has been a slog at times, this hiatus and the days of toil off the court. These past few weeks, if nothing else, have turned the speed up a gear as he looks to accelerate forwards again.

“I’m trying to get back to prime time,” Nelson adds. “I had a year out and I’m still trying to find my feet. But that’s still no excuse. I’m really just trying to get back to feeling like myself again.

“It’s frustrating what I know I can do compared to what I actually am doing on the court. Right now, I’m just focusing on what I can do to help the team win.”

Photo: Ahmedphotos

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