Friday, December 14, 2001

These days, Nelson silent on Shootout

Former Bearcat mum 10 seasons after brash call

By Bill Koch
Enquirer contributor

        Terry Nelson is inside his office at Western Hills High School watching tape with his players, searching for a way to win his first game as a head coach. He doesn't look like someone with mystic powers. He looks like any other basketball coach at work on a December night, preparing for his next opponent.

“Xavier doesn't really have a chance,” Nelson boldly proclaimed four days before the 1992 game. “ I think we should go in there and blow them out.”
(File photo)
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        But this week, Nelson is more than a first-year head coach. He's The Great Prophet of the Crosstown Shootout. Who will win tonight, Cincinnati or Xavier? Just ask Nelson.

        Ten seasons have passed since Nelson, then a UC forward, made his famous prediction a few days before his first Crosstown Shootout, a prediction that still reverberates in Cincinnati every winter as part of the game's lore.

        “Guys mess with me (during this week),” said Nelson. “You go to a sports bar, and they're all asking who's going to win and what do you predict this time? I got guys trying to buy me beers to get a prediction. You know, bookies. But I have no gift.”

        At the end of January 1992, you would have been hard-pressed to find a UC fan who didn't believe Nelson was prescient when he predicted the Bearcats would blow out Xavier at the Cincinnati Gardens.

        “Xavier doesn't really have a chance,” Nelson boldly proclaimed four days before the game. “The fact that they're at home (doesn't mean much). I feel like it's not their home game because it's not on their campus. I think we should go in there and blow them out. ... I'll just say we should win big, because I have that much confidence in our players.”

        In an era when players and coaches from both teams carefully avoid saying anything inflammatory before this game, Nelson's words seem extraordinary.

        The truth is, Nelson didn't know what he said would cause so much commotion. He certainly never imagined that someone would be asking him about it 10 years later. Remember, Nelson was a first-year UC player from Long Beach, Calif., who knew next to nothing about the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry.

        “I didn't know it would cause this much ruckus, or obviously I wouldn't have said it,” he said. “I didn't know how serious the Crosstown Shootout was. We were hot at the time, and they weren't. They were having problems. I didn't think they were as deep as us, so I did blurt off at the mouth.”

        Nelson's status changed practically overnight from UC role player to minor celebrity.
       • • •

        On Saturday night, Jan.25, 1992, UC beat UAB in the Bearcats' final tuneup before the Xavier game. Afterward, Nelson — who already had developed a reputation as a good interview — exited the locker room and was asked by a lone reporter about the Xavier game.

        That's when he made his prediction.

        When asked if he was sure he wanted to say that, Nelson said he had no problem with it. Nelson says he never gave it a second thought until his comments were published two days later.

        The writer's story was about how Xavier couldn't claim to be the underdog this time because the Musketeers had enjoyed more recent success than UC, and Nelson's comments were near the end. But Nelson's quotes were used for a box on the front page of the day's paper with the headline: “UC player: "Xavier doesn't have a chance.'”

        The following morning, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins summoned Nelson.

        “At 8 o'clock, he calls me into his office,” Nelson said. “I went in there, and he had his glasses on. He said, "Close the door.' He just got into me for about 25 or 35 minutes. He said, "How can a guy who averages three points and three rebounds have the nerve to put something like this in the paper?'

        “I tried to get out of it. I said, "Coach, I didn't say this,' and it finally ended up being, "I didn't know I was being recorded.'”

        Huggins eventually went on the radio and said Nelson was misquoted, his words taken out of context, by a reporter sneaking around where he didn't belong. Not of which was true.

        “I just couldn't believe that Terry would say something like that,” Huggins said. “Of course, he swore to me he didn't. He averaged three points and three rebounds a game. How else was he going to get in the paper?

        “It's just not the kind of attitude that you want to have going into any game, but with that one, it ends up on the front page of the paper, not on the sports page.”

        Said Nelson: “We just knew we were going to beat that team. They knew what it meant to the city. We had no idea. We just knew we were the better team. We just wanted to talk a little trash.”

        Nelson's prediction was right. UC beat Xavier 93-75. Afterward, there was no more talk of Nelson being misquoted. Nelson, who had six points and four rebounds in the game, basked in the glow of celebrity. That prediction as much as anything helped make him a Cincinnati media darling, thrusting him onto TV and radio shows and even resulting in a night-club appearance for the would-be stand-up comic.

        Huggins, though, says all that probably would have happened, anyway.

        “I think Terry would have found a way to be a media personality one way or another,” Huggins said. “Terry chased cameras like dogs chase cars. He's the same guy who said he was going to sue the NCAA in the New York Times.
       • • •

        Nelson, 31, has long since abandoned the prediction business. He says only that Friday's game will be well-played, that the teams are as evenly matched as they've been in years and that both have good defenses. That's not exactly what you expect from a mystic.

        This year, Nelson won't even get to see the game because his team has a game of its own that night. Not that it matters to UC fans. For a few days every year, he is still Terry Nelson the Prophet. And he doesn't mind a bit.

        “That game stayed in everybody's mind,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I can get people to buy me dinner because of that prediction.”


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