PROVO — Since he began dribbling a basketball as a young kid in Southern California, Isaac Neilson has dreamed of suiting up for the BYU Cougars.
Four years from how he'll get that chance, with BYU's coaches believing that Neilson will be a top big man in the Cougars' basketball future.
Neilson, a 6-foot-10, 205-pound senior at Mission Viejo High in Mission Viejo, Calif., gave BYU coach Dave Rose a verbal commitment last weekend to suit up for the Cougars in 2014. He won't join BYU's program until then because he turns 19 in December 2011 and plans to serve a two-year LDS Church mission first.
"His dream and goal has always been to play for BYU, and now that's going to be a reality," said Neilson's father, Jim Neilson.
Neilson had offers from Utah State, Army, UC-Irvine and UC-Santa Barbara. Gonzaga and Boise State were also showing interest. Last season, as a junior, he averaged about nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks per game — earning first-team All-South Coast League honors. Rose, and assistants Dave Rice and Tim LaComb traveled to California on Sept. 14 to make Neilson an official offer.
Until Neilson signs his letter-of-intent in early November, however, BYU coaches cannot discuss his recruitment.
But according to Jim Neilson, his son has an arm span comparable to someone that's 7-foot-3. Even though he's a little thin for his height, and hopes to gain some muscle weight between now and 2014, BYU's coaches like Neilson's work ethic, toughness and ability to run the floor.
"He has a nice shot, is agile and can move. He has all the skills you'd want in a big man," Jim Neilson said.
For the most part, Neilson has been somewhat off the high-profile recruiting radar. In fact, he was the one who approached BYU's coaches last fall when the Neilson family traveled to Provo to drop off an older brother who is attending BYU. Neilson and his father stopped off at the Marriott Center and talked briefly with former assistant John Wardenburg.
"We were hoping and praying that BYU would see him as a recruiting candidate," Jim Neilson said.
The Cougar coaches were unable to attend any of Neilson's games. However, through high school coaches — like when Mission Viejo played in the same tournament last season as Pleasant Grove High — they received positive reports.
Neilson, who made a huge improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons, impressed the coaches more during his AAU play this past summer, and especially so during a trip to a BYU basketball camp in July.27 comments on this story
"They liked what they saw and said his skills were even better than they had hoped," Jim Neilson said.
Mission Viejo High basketball coach Troy Roelen says Neilson has many upsides, runs the court as well as any big man he's seen and has fantastic hands in the post. He also believes Neilson will grow another inch or so.
"He's considered to be one of the better big men in the West," Roelen said. "And with a wing span equivalent to a guy that's 7-foot-3 he has a lot of room to grow, so I really think he's going to stretch out some and put on some weight. How good he's going to be really depends on how he recovers from the time away from the game. Playing as a 22-year-old freshman is definitely going to be different than playing as an 18-year-old freshman."