North Dakota State star Grant Nelson's family says NBA decision, college future ultimately his

Bison forward likely down to three scenarios: stay at NDSU, transfer to a bigger school or declare for the NBA

Meg and Nels Nelson watch their son Grant play at the Scheels Center on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — At some point this month, the North Dakota State men’s basketball season will end and sometime after that, Grant Nelson will have to make a decision. His parents, Nels and Meg Nelson, have been with him every step of the way, but this is one where the kid will probably take the lead.

There appear to be three options for the 20-year-old: stay at NDSU where he has two more years of eligibility, hit the transfer portal in hopes of landing with a Power Five program or declare for the NBA draft.

“He’s the ultimate decision maker,” Nels said. “I hope we’ve raised all of our kids to be that way. That’s important to me.”

“Yet,” Meg countered, “he is only 20 and he is considering what we have to say and what his oldest brother has to say.”

That would be his half brother Justin Thomas, who is 15 years older and works in the insurance business in Bismarck, N.D.


“I’m hoping to have no input on the final decision,” he said.

Justin and Grant formed a bond through basketball over the years and lately he’s been a gatekeeper of sorts in Grant’s future professional options, specifically when dealing with sport agencies. Justin thinks the two have the list of potential sports agents narrowed down enough to where Grant can make an intelligent decision if need be.

Headlines and photos about NDSU forward and NBA prospect Grant Nelson

Justin calls the ordeal a net positive, meaning the large sports agencies with good reputations and good client list who want to invest in the 6-foot-11 Grant have overshadowed any negativity associated with the process.

“And that investment is significant in terms of the resources they provide to take you where you’re at now as a basketball player,” Justin said, “and turn you into somebody who can play at the NBA level, which is exciting for us and Grant because that’s what he loves, to play basketball. The prospect of him being able to work with the best is very exciting.”

Justin Thomas, left, has helped his younger brother and North Dakota State forward Grant Nelson in several facets of his basketball career.
Submitted photo

The parents are hoping Grant can find somebody else he can talk to who has had similar options at this stage of his college career.

“He could get hurt tonight and it could be over, that’s how this deal goes,” Nels said. “Or he could go on or they could say, hey, you’re not ready. I would hope for him that I think he wants to be 100% ready. I see him working for it.”

For now, Nelson is working the Bison into hopes of a Summit League tournament title. No. 3 seed NDSU plays the winner of Friday night’s play-in game between No. 7 seed Kansas City and No. 10 Omaha at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Bar on ‘potential’ keeps going up

Agents have been trying to latch onto the Nelson train for awhile now and Nels said he’s always on alert in checking into them. They’ve called Nels and Meg, with any calls followed by a Google search on the agency.


“One of them I got an icky taste for but the others I haven’t felt too bad,” he said. “It’s been cool stuff, although now it’s settling down.”

“Or maybe we’re just getting used to it,” Meg said. “Initially it was like, wait, Grant went viral? What? That was fun.”That was a 1 minute, 42 second video put on Twitter of a conglomeration of Nelson dunks. It was viewed almost two million times within a week.

Nels met and talked with a scout from the San Antonio Spurs before NDSU’s last home game last week against Western Illinois. Scouts talking to head coach Dave Richman or making a trip to see Nelson play either at NDSU or on the road have been numerous.

Through all the attention, those closest to Grant say the attention hasn’t changed him. Richman says it hasn’t changed his approach to the game or how he conducts his business on the court.

“I think it’s important he stays honorable to himself,” Nels said.

“When you get overconfident,” Meg said, “and start to think more highly of yourself, then it usually has a way of backfiring.”

Justin also sees a player who isn’t fazed by all the attention. It’s been a theme of sorts over the years, with Justin, a former good player himself, helping in every way he could.

When Grant was playing freshman ball at Devils Lake, Justin saw a potential all-state varsity player. By his sophomore year, Justin saw a potential Division I player and at one point asked Grant: where do you see yourself, NDSU or the University of North Dakota?


Grant sort of laughed and smiled.

“Seriously,” Justin said, “I think you’re Division I good.”

The answer to the question at the time? UND.

Justin later adjusted his potential on Grant to a good Summit League starter to a dominant player in the Summit.

“By his senior year, I thought, gosh, if he really threads the needle here and develops his shooting, I think he could play in the NBA,” Justin said. “Still a projection but I’ve seen it for years that he had potential, but he’s one of dozens of guys who have quote, unquote potential. The NBA is a pretty competitive business so he has work to do but it’s pretty exciting.”

Signs of success came early

The future actually started in high school at Devils Lake when Meg noticed how well Grant could dribble the ball for his size.

“Taking charge really from a young age,” she said, “and he kept growing taller and taller.”

NDSU took notice during Nelson’s junior year, a time when Meg said she kept pushing him to be more aggressive on the offensive end, like to the point of scoring 40 points a game. I could see so much potential.”


It was Meg who suggested to Grant that he learn to shoot the jump hook, which was treated with hesitancy by the kid but is now one of his staple shots with the Bison.

There’s height in the family, moreso on Nels’ side. Meg, who is 5-10, has a sister who is 6-1. Nels’ grandfather was 6-6 and Grant has an uncle at 6-8 and an aunt at 6-1.

Grant is part of a blended family of nine kids. Nels had one and Meg three children from a previous marriage and together they have five kids. Grant is the third youngest. In high school, he and older brother by one year Leif Nelson battled back and forth.

The 6-7 Leif went on to play basketball at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake and is currently on the track and field team at Minot State, where he is a standout thrower.

Grant was always around as a kid to help Nels in his construction business. It wasn’t unusual for one of the kids to run a Bobcat skid steer loader at 9 or 10 years old.

Justin’s wow moment with Grant goes back to Grant’s freshman high school game against Minot. Grant, then about 6-4 and tallest player on the court, took a rebound, dribbled the length of the floor by a couple of Minot guards, who thought they had an easy chance for a steal, and scored.

“That was kind of the moment where I was like, OK, he’s putting up these big numbers and he’s doing things that the guards can’t even do,” Justin said. “There were definitely some signs early on.”

Signs that appear to be leading him to the NBA. Whenever that may be.


Grant Nelson adds his signature to a photo taken by Julie Baker (to Nelson's right) after NDSU's win over St. Thomas the Scheels Center on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum
Meg and Nels Nelson say goodbye to their son Grant before heading back to Devils Lake after watching him play at the Scheels Center on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

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