Roberto Nelson came to Oregon State with the mentality of a scorer and not much else when it came to basketball.
Angus Brandt didn’t have much experience in the sport and lacked the mental tenacity to play post in a major conference.
Devon Collier, like Nelson, didn’t take school serious and had doubters who questioned whether he would finish college.
Heading toward the end of their time at OSU, all three seniors have made strides as people and students as well as players in helping the Beaver men’s basketball program begin to change its culture and raise expectations.
“These guys should be applauded because when we walk into a gym, now other teams think we have a chance to win, and that’s a good feeling,” said OSU coach Craig Robinson, whose team is 15-13 overall and 7-9 in Pac-12 play heading into Wednesday night’s home game with No. 3 Arizona (27-2, 14-2).
“These guys are the ones responsible for giving us that persona. They’ve had to do it in tough times and in the shadow of having not been good here for a long time. I think that’s really hard.”
Nelson showed up in Corvallis as a highly recruited guard out of Santa Barbara, Calif.
He admits he “got carried away” with a strong focus on scoring and ignoring the rest of the game. He blames that for his lack of playing time early in his career.
“Over time you start to learn things about yourself and in life you learn things. It was kind of a trial-and-error thing with me,” Nelson said. “I kind of found out what I needed to do and that’s what I’m doing.”
He’s still strong at the hoop, leading the Pac-12 Conference in scoring for the second straight season.
But he’s also altered his game for the better of his team.
Nelson, who hopes for a career in the film industry, is averaging career highs in rebounds (3.5) and assists (3.7) as well as points (20.6).
“It’s been a real evolution,” Robinson said of Nelson’s game and maturity.
The coach no longer has to tell his “reluctant superstar” why working hard and study hall are important. Instead, it’s Nelson passing on that knowledge to this year’s freshmen.
Brandt, a center from Australia, was high on the list of Robinson’s targets of scrutiny in Brandt’s first two years on the team.
That criticism came not because of Brandt’s attitude, but rather because he needed it, Robinson said.
The two were often mad at each other because Robinson wanted a more feisty and aggressive version of the 6-foot-10 Brandt in the key.
“He definitely made me a tougher player and he made me mentally tougher and gave me that physical edge, too. That’s helped me in the long run a lot,” Brandt said of his coach.
Fast forward three years and Brandt has weathered a knee injury that cost him almost all of last season to play some of the best basketball of his career.
“Seeing that transformation, it makes me proud, but it makes me happier because of all the work he’s put in,” Robinson said of Brandt, who wants to be a physical therapist. “I can name some good centers in this conference, but his name’s always coming out of my mouth when you’re talking about the best centers.”
Collier, a 6-foot-10 forward from Bronx, N.Y., with dreams of being an actor, had to adjust to college life and making academics a priority.
The transition from high school to college basketball wasn’t an issue. He played more minutes as a freshman than Brandt or Nelson.
Though he has had to adjust to coming off the bench midway through this season after starting 85 games as a Beaver.
Collier’s numbers dipped early in Pac-12 play when he became the team’s sixth man after fellow forward and teammate Eric Moreland returned from suspension.
But Collier has rebounded, scoring in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games to up his average to 13.6, second only to Nelson on the team.
He’s found success in the classroom as well, even if some of those around him growing up didn’t think he’d make it.
“Regardless of what happens to him basketball-wise after his career here, I will be much more impressed with the fact that he’ll have an Oregon State degree,” Robinson said.