BEN Nelson grew up on a farm in Minnesota, in the US midwest, and spent four years playing basketball for the University of Nebraska, taking on such players as National Basketball Association star Kevin Durant.
But it took one look at a group of blokes training for rugby at his university campus for the 206-centimetre giant to know his true calling.
In 18 months Nelson had gone from the Big 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball conference to packing scrums for Kansas City Blues and receiving an invitation to train with an extended USA Eagles squad.
Now he is in Newcastle at The Waratahs for the next step in a rugby education he hopes leads to a World Cup.
‘‘In my senior year at college, I was at the rec centre playing basketball,’’ Nelson said.
‘‘We had an indoor field and I saw some guys playing rugby. I talked to them the next day about it and was hooked.
‘‘I’m a farm kid. Growing up, me and my younger brother, we weren’t having fun unless one of us was bleeding. Rugby came naturally that way. I started playing two years ago and haven’t looked back.’’
Nelson, 25, played as a power forward in basketball and said a lot of the philosophies crossed codes.
‘‘Surprisingly a lot of the concepts are the same in regards to recognising holes, utilisation of space ... a lot of the thought behind it is similar,’’ he said.
‘‘The biggest leap is the skills.’’
After completing his engineering degree, Nelson joined the Kansas City Blues, who play in the top division of the national competition in the US.
‘‘I was fortunate in Kansas our coach, Scott Adamson, was a huge follower of what the All Blacks did,’’ he said.
‘‘He was very technical at scrums, the breakdown, lineout lifting and all that.’’
Keen to develop his game further, Nelson put his resume on a rugby internet site and within a month received a phone call from The Waratahs coach Greg Doolan.
‘‘I did some investigating on him,’’ Doolan said.
‘‘Fantastic character, real hard worker and the club he was at, Kansas City, only had very good things to say about him. He wants to go as far as he can go. He is very athletic for a big bloke and is not afraid to get stuck in.’’
Nelson will line up for his fourth game when the Tahs take on Singleton at Rugby Park on Saturday.
‘‘The biggest problem I have had is getting into the flow of the game,’’ he said. ‘‘The rhythm here is a lot different to the States.
‘‘The analogy I use is like when you are learning to drive a car with a manual transmission. People know what they are supposed to do but it is still herky-jerky.
‘‘Over here everything is smooth. In the States, if we want to send the ball wide to the backs, 90per cent of the time it will pause a little between each back. We get away with it because the defence is on the same level.
‘‘Here even in the lower levels, even third grade, it is boom, boom, boom ... the movement is natural.’’