As a freshman, Kyle Nelson got an early introduction to postseason basketball once he was called up to the varsity team at St. Charles North in time for the 2009 Class 4A regional tournament.
In addition to practicing against the likes of Jon DeMoss, Nick Neari, Josh Mikes, Jake Juriga, and Zach Hirsch, Nelson also had the chance to watch the North Stars capture their second regional championship in school history and advance to a sectional title clash with Dundee-Crown.
"It was an awesome way to start out my high school basketball career," said Nelson of the North Stars' best basketball team to date that posted a 22-9 record.
Four years earlier, Nelson had the opportunity to watch his oldest brother, Peter, start at center as the North Stars captured their first regional title with a 63-57 homecourt victory over Barrington.
"I remember being in fifth grade when they won the regional," said Nelson. "I thought Peter was a superhero."
Kyle followed his brother's footsteps as the North Stars' starting center the past three years.
This season, the 6-foot-8 senior was literally and figuratively a big reason behind St. Charles North earning its first Upstate Eight Conference River Division title -- shared as co-champions with Elgin.
Facing double- and triple-team defenses much of the time, Nelson still found his way to the basket or helped set up his teammates for good looks.
That's not always easy when you have defenders draped on your back and pesky guards hacking on your wrists.
"It is difficult," Nelson said of playing in the paint. "But once you establish a dominant role, your job is learning how to adapt and make your teammates better."
Nelson didn't shy away from the physical part of the game.
"I've been picked on a lot in my life," said Nelson.
Such is life when you're the youngest of three athletic brothers.
Peter, who played football and basketball at St. Charles North, went on to become a 2-year starting offensive lineman at San Diego State, where he spent his senior season playing for head coach Brady Hoke (now at Michigan).
Chris, a 2009 graduate of St. Charles North, also played varsity football and basketball and is now a junior at Arkansas, where he is a student volunteer football coach.
"As brothers, they'd compete against each other in everything," said their dad, Greg. "It could get testy, but at the end of the day and every day, they are best of friends."
"I was glad to go through growing up being a little brother," said Kyle. "It gave me confidence and toughness.
"Chris can still whoop on me but Peter chooses not to because he knows it wouldn't be a fair fight."
As a sophomore, Kyle also received his share of punishment while scrimmaging against 6-7, 270-pound senior teammate Ryan Brown, now an offensive lineman at Northern Illinois.
Nelson inflicted his own pain on opponents this season, beginning the campaign with 22 points and 6 rebounds during a head-to-head matchup with state-ranked Plainfield East big man Brian Bennett.
While posting regular-season double-doubles against Larkin twice, Pontiac (where he was named to the all-tournament team), Metea Valley, and St. Charles East, Nelson's most memorable game was a late-January, 16-point outing at Elgin.
"It wasn't my best performance but we beat a great team at their place," Nelson said of the North Stars' 55-53 road win.
That should tell you the kind of leadership Nelson displayed as one of the North Stars' captains.
"What Kyle has meant for us will be felt for the next couple years with the kids that he was the captain of this year," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin, whose team finished 13-16.
"We've had some very good captains here -- Erik Ellingson, DeMoss, Neari, and I know I'm forgetting people -- but I haven't been prouder of a captain as I was of Kyle this year.
"There was frustration at times. We've never played a tougher schedule. There were many, many days where this team could have packed it in or become overly negative. It's a tribute to Kyle and our other captains that it didn't happen."
Nelson, who capped his prep career with an 18-point, 12-rebound performance in North's 63-50 regional loss to St. Charles East last week, loved playing basketball for the North Stars.
"It never got old and I never got sick of it," said Nelson. "It was fun because of who I got to play with. They're some of my best friends."
For Greg and Anita Nelson, last Wednesday's game turned out to be the final time they would watch their sons play sports at St. Charles North after 10-plus unforgettable years.
"It was a blast," said Greg, "and it went by fast. Having the boys in sports, we've made terrific friendships with people like the Brown's, Neari's, and others in the community.
"It was a little crazy at times, especially when Peter was playing at San Diego State," added Greg. "I remember watching Kyle play on Thursday, Chris on Friday night, and then flying out to the West coast for Peter's game on Saturday. Those are wonderful memories."
As for Kyle's basketball future, he is waiting for acceptance into West Point with another option being studying aviation at Lewis University.
"Aviation is big on my mom's side of the family," said Kyle. "My uncle got to fly the Green Bay Packers back home after they won the Super Bowl last year."
Nelson received one last well-deserved ovation after Poulin took him out of last Wednesday night's regional semifinal with 12 seconds remaining.
"Kyle deserved better than what we gave him tonight (Wednesday)," said Poulin, who knows things won't be quite the same without Nelson around next season.
"He'll be missed off the court much more than he was on the court, and he's going to be missed a whole lot on the court," said Poulin. "He's just a great guy."
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.com