Rob Nielson has traveled all over the world to teach basketball with stops in New Zealand, Korea, China, Mexico and Canada, so he is plenty comfortable bringing an international flair to his roster. This past season at Snow College in Central Utah his team included players from Japan and Belgium.
Nielson spent more than a decade at Mt. Hood Community College where he worked as an instructor, an administrator and of course, as the Saints' head basketball coach. He moved on to take the Athletics Director job at Snow in 2010 and a couple years later found himself back on the sideline coaching the Badgers.
This past season, he guided Snow to a 26-6 record and the Scenic West Athletic Conference championship. The Badgers never lost on their home court.
Perhaps a bigger measure of success for a junior college coach is the fact that Nielson has seen 23 players move onto four-year schools in his five seasons at the helm. This past season Zach Hunsaker earned All-American honors at the junior college level and has signed to play at Brown University — this year's team also sent players to Utah State, Colorado State, Idaho State and Cal-Riverside.
"I enjoy making adjustments during the game, and helping players see what we are trying to accomplish," Rob said. "Developing a team over the course of six months and seeing it all come together — it's fun to be a part of that."
This past year was also special in that he had a chance to coach his youngest son Quinn — a freshman guard.
Nielson makes a point of returning to the Northwest, often scheduling the Badgers for an early-season tournament hosted by Portland Community College. He also stays in touch with past players and coaches.
"The relationships that you build — that's what is special," Rob said.
When he's not busy with basketball, he enjoys his newer role as a grandfather and also sight-seeing with his wife Kathy. The couple has taken recent treks to Arizona and Hawaii along with a history-rich trip to the East Coast that included stops at Arlington National Cemetery and the Liberty Bell.
"It was my first time in Philadelphia, and we spent two weeks just taking in all the history," Rob said. "We try to go somewhere at least once or twice a year."
• One of his sons, Corey, has also landed in Utah where he teaches a seminary class at Davis High School — 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City.
"There's a lot of pride in being a Davis High Dart," Corey said. "We have generations of families here — kids whose great grandparents came to this school."
Nielson was an assistant coach for several seasons at Mt. Hood, but enjoys the chance to interact with the greater number of kids who come through his classroom door each day.
"On a basketball team you're working with 15-18 kids, but we have a big school, and as a teacher I get to work with 360 students," Corey said. "I enjoy developing those relationships. You don't have the pressure that you find with coaching, you get to make a difference for more kids and I'm teaching something that lasts a life time."
Corey counts long-time Barlow High teacher and coach Tom Johnson as a mentor, even placing a call to his former coach to touch base on Father's Day.
"I've been exposed to a bunch of positive mentors, but anyone that has played for T.J. would put him at the top of their list," Corey said.
He went on to play for his dad at Mt. Hood and was part of a the 2005-06 Saints' squad that ran through league unbeaten and reached the Final Four at the Northwest tournament.
Corey continues to play in an adult city league — his team reached the championship game just a few weeks ago.
"Basketball has been a part of my life for so along — it's still good to get out and compete," Corey said.
He is married to Brittaney Yates, who he met while at Mt. Hood. The couple has a 2-year-old son Klay Thomas and is expecting another child in December.