don nelson

Fifty years ago, Don Nelson left the University of Iowa eight credits and a student-teaching requirement shy of a degree. Nelson took correspondence classes to complete the credits. But it took the most coaching wins in NBA history for the university to decide Nelson didn’t need to be a student teacher to earn a diploma.

On Saturday, the former Hawkeyes’ star player returned to receive his bachelor’s degree in physical education during Iowa’s commencement ceremony at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

”I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. I wish it would have happened 50 years ago. But it didn’t,” Nelson said, ”and I think that the moral to that story is it’s never too late as long as you keep working and keep having dreams. They can come true.”

Nelson is known for the 1,355 coaching wins he picked up over 31 seasons as an NBA coach, a career he wrapped up with Golden State following the 2010-11 season. It’s easy to forget that it all started over five decades ago in the Midwest.

Nelson, who turns 72 on May 15, starred for Rock Island High in Illinois, just across the river from Iowa, and joined the Hawkeyes in 1959. Sporting a spiky blond flat top and a versatile game that would serve him well in the pros, Nelson finished his Iowa career as a two-time All-American.

– Reported by Luke Meredith of the Associated Press