Crestwood basketball is having one of its best stretches in recent memory.
The Knights are building on last season's successes after going 21-3 and currently sit atop of the SCHSL 3A rankings with a 10-4 record.
A major part of the Knights' success comes from the play and leadership of senior guard Corean Nelson.
Off the court, Corean is more of a reserved individual.
It's apparent in the way he talks about life when he isn't playing basketball. His answers are rather short but are honest.
"I'm a shy person, I'm not really talkative," Corean said when asked to describe himself. "If I'm not playing basketball I'm usually on the game. I'm pretty good at Madden."
On the court, Corean is known for violently slashing to the basket and scoring in bunches. He sheds the laid-back personality. It's visibly evident that basketball shapes who he is. His demeanor changes as he welcomes conversation surrounding his playstyle.
"I love scoring, it's fun" he says almost immediately and with a smile on his face when asked what he loves most about the game. "I look at guys like Trae Young, Ja [Morant], [Steph] Curry and Dame [Lillard] and I get pieces of their game and just try to put it in mine. I like how they can shoot on the catch and off the dribble. I like to try and keep my own playstyle but use some of their moves. My game revolves around defense, shooting the midrange off the dribble and hitting catch and shoot threes. I use my midrange as an advantage because if the defender closes out, I can pump fake and then hit a jumper."
Corean's game has indeed spoken for him since joining the varsity squad at Crestwood in the 10th grade. COVID-19 limited his first season, so his junior year was his first in full. Corean made the most of it, taking home region player of the year honors. It's recognition that he appreciates and uses as a motivator during his final season for the Knights.
"Being named Region Player of the Year felt good," The Knights' star guard admitted. "There was a region game that we had to win in order for me to get it. It was a tight game at Lakewood and if we would have lost, one of their players would have got it. I knew the circumstances going into that game, I knew I had to step up.
"Now going into games this year, I keep my expectations high because I know when I play other teams if I do bad they'll be thinking, 'How did I win player of the year?'"
The game of basketball has become a part of the athletic fabric of the city of Sumter. Its prominence has been heightened by former Crestwood guard Ja Morant becoming an NBA superstar with the Memphis Grizzlies. Many see the game as an avenue to make it out of the city and take care of their loved ones. Corean is no different.
"Basketball means a lot to me," Corean explained. "It's going to be a way to help my parents stop working. I played parks and rec at age 4 with 5- and 6-year-olds. I've been playing up my whole life. I was slower than everybody when I was younger, so it just made me want to be a better basketball player in order to keep up. I've been thinking I can use basketball to make it out since ninth grade. I'm watching people around me go D1 for football. That really opened my eyes and made me see that I can make it."
Morant's status as a Crestwood great casts a shadow over the point guards who follow by default. Corean is well aware of what that shadow is but doesn't let it affect him. The pressure to compete at a high level against players with the same aspirations is enough pressure to work to strive under.
"You've just got to be who you are. Ja's journey is just inspiration really," Corean said. "Since he made it, all the hoopers around here have an inspiration to make it. Everybody has the same dream, so it's going to get very intense during the games. Everybody wants to be offered a scholarship or get a way out. That's why the games are so competitive in Sumter. We're playing for bragging rights, too. You can be friends and enemies on and off the court, certain things get said. It comes with it."
Crestwood head coach Aric Samuel took over the program Corean's freshman year. He could see that Nelson was something special from the beginning.
"I'm very fortunate to be able to have Corean at Crestwood," Samuel said. "The last four years he has helped change the landscape of basketball here. "I had the opportunity to see him at the JV level. You try to be patient with that process but when he was in the ninth grade he was done in killing JV. We knew we had a special player. I can recall his first game. He came in and right away, you can see that he was a difference maker. In his first varsity game he went on a 7-0 run by himself and hit a big shot from deep late."
Samuel has only seen Corean grow since then. He credits the senior guard for helping to change the fortunes of the program and have them competing to get a state title.
"When he came through the doors we were at the bottom, now we're fighting somewhere at the top and he's an instrumental part of that," Samuel said. "I think he's a role model for all student athletes here. He sets a good academic example and a good athletic example. He shows up every day for school, he shows up every practice and works hard. And if you do those things, you got a chance to be good. His growth has been tremendous. His work ethic is awesome. He's grown every year since he's been here, we're looking forward to a strong finish."
PARENTS KNOW BEST
Corean credits his parents for creating him into the person he is today.
"My parents have always encouraged me," Corean said. "Whatever I want to do in life, they tell me that I can do it. My mom, she's a very influential person in my life. She's just pushed me to do whatever I want to do. My dad set my work ethic. He would make sure that I would wake up in the mornings during middle school just to go get a workout before school. If I have a bad game, he's going to let me have it. It'll make me never want to have a bad game again."
Corean's father, Corey Nelson, has been the one responsible for training him since an early age. The elder Nelson played basketball at Sumter High and has made sure that his son takes his career as far as he wants it to go.
"I've been coaching and training Corean since he was two years old," Corey said. " I put a ball in his hand when he was 2 years old and he began to love the game. I played basketball but I didn't go as far as I want Corean to go. I started pushing him early, and he's worked hard. We train and practice practically every day. It's been a great process.
"Corean wasn't always the fastest and wasn't the strongest. He was always undersized. He started exceeding my expectations and developed into a great basketball player through his work ethic," Corey continued. "I saw him take a real leap when he was 9 years old. He helped to lead a rec team with 10- to 12- year-olds go undefeated and make the championship game. The team wasn't that good but he was able to take them far. That's when I knew he had something deeper than just a love for basketball."
Corean's mother, Santana Hilton, is proud of her son. She's seen him grow into a great player as well as a great role model.
"Corean is a completely different person when he plays basketball. At home and around family, he's very laid back. He gets that from me and his dad," Santana said. "He's a great role model to his younger brother. His younger brother, he's 9 and he wants to be just like him. Corean is so supportive of him. He also plays basketball, so he teaches him the game and he's training his brother."
Corean loves English and wants to study sports medicine in college. He's very aware of the importance of being great in things off the court. Another off the court goal for Corean is to just be a great example for his little brother, Iverson.
"I just want to lead and leave a good name for him," Corean explained. "So if he has the same teachers and coaches that I've had, and me being a good person, they'll look at him the same way, too. I want to make it an easier path for him."
As for the team's success, there is really only one thing on Corean and his teammates' minds this year, and that's a title.
The Knights have already checked off some other goals. They earned a big non-region win over Sumter earlier this season. It was the first win over the Gamecocks while Corean has been on the roster. The Knights also recently won the District 9 Officials Christmas Tournament for the second year in a row and rose to the top of the 3A standings. The momentum has the Knights excited and ready to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
"The team here has been good since I've been on varsity," Corean said. "We can do better, I want us to get this ring. We're a younger team this year, but now that we're ranked No. 1, I hope we keep it and just win more. We want that ring."
More Articles to Read