Nelson's next move hinges on his Chicago play

CHICAGO -- If toughness is a requirement for a first-round draft pick, Saint Joseph's junior point guard Jameer Nelson has proven he's worthy of one of the top 29 spots in the NBA Draft.

An hour into Nelson's first foray into testing the draft process Tuesday night, he took an elbow to his chin. Blood flowed and Nelson had to leave the Moody Bible Institute court to get a few stitches. He returned quickly and jumped right back into the scrimmage session.

"That's the first time in my life I have had stitches," Nelson said. "I'm not sure whose elbow it was, but it caught my jaw and my ear is still ringing. But I'm not surprised by how physical it was out there."

Nelson played well enough Tuesday to remain among the players hoping to move into the first round by June 26. He made shots, took the ball hard to the basket, but lacked the wow factor that potential draftees at the Chicago pre-draft camp are looking to produce in front of every NBA team's representative.

But it was just the opening night of the week-long camp. In fact, nobody stood out nearly enough over the first few hours of drills to earn any sort of "first-round lock" status. And for the handful of underclassmen still weighing the decision of whether to stay in the draft, one night certainly won't sway their thoughts one way or another. Tuesday's night session started with drills and evolved into lackluster scrimmage sessions. The first of three days of full scrimmages begin Wednesday, which is when stats will be kept and some separation could start to occur among the hopefuls.

Nelson is one of seven underclassmen in Chicago who could still return to college next season. Of the other six -- Texas Tech's Andre Emmett, Morehead State's Ricky Minard, Washington State's Marcus Moore, N.C. State's Josh Powell, Washington's Doug Wrenn and Alabama's Maurice Williams -- only Emmett, Minard and Williams are expected to give serious thought to going back to school next season.

But, the one player who is on the fence more than any other based on his performances in Chicago is probably Nelson.

Nelson, who in three seasons has already set the standard for assists at St. Joe's and was a first-team all-Atlantic 10 selection this past season, hasn't worked out for any NBA teams before arriving at camp. He doesn't plan on flying around the country for workouts, either. If all goes well this week, and there is enough interest among NBA teams, he may hold an individual workout in the Philadelphia area next week to see who comes to watch him. He would then decide sometime before the June 19 deadline for underclassmen to withdraw whether to stay in the draft.

But, again, his future plans all likely depend on how he plays this week.

And NBA teams will look closely at Nelson's measurements when they are officially released.

Nelson is listed at 6-foot-1, but could come in an inch or two shorter than his college measurements. If that's the case, some teams could have a hangup on a smaller point guard unless he is dominant in the camp. Nelson has been the best player on the floor many times before against similar competition. He averaged 19.7 points a game for the Hawks (fourth in the A-10) and, if he returns, could be a first-team All-American heading into his senior season.

If he decided to return to Saint Joseph's, and has a similar season to the one he enjoyed this past season, he could be back in Chicago in a year -- but in the physical-only group of first-round locks that arrives after the games are played Friday.

In 2004, Nelson would be rid of competition at his position from Texas' T.J. Ford, Kansas' Kirk Hinrich, Oregon's Luke Ridnour, Brazil's Leandrinho Barbosa and likely Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, who himself is still undecided on his future, but will stay in the draft if he's projected in the first round. Gone also will be Boston College's Troy Bell, St. John's Marcus Hatten, and possibly the aforementioned Williams, if he stays in the draft.

Another year of college would mean Nelson's jersey likely being retired on Hawk Hill, and a chance for national player of the year honors. His toughest competition at the point in the 2004 draft, at least domestically, could come from North Carolina's Raymond Felton, if he decides to leave after what would be his sophomore season.

But Nelson's quest this week remains simply to see if he can play his way into the first round as a junior early-entry candidate.

"I'm not putting any added pressure on myself," Nelson said. "I'm just going out there and playing."

Nelson said the first day's goal was simply to learn the offense that is being put into play. A simple pick-and-roll system will help the teams have some semblance of order as they go through three games over three days.

"So far everything went well," Nelson said. "I've just got to go out there and prove myself."

Saint Joseph's assistant Monte Ross is watching Nelson's every move. He's trying to be encouraging, but at the same time isn't going to complain if Nelson doesn't end the camp as the can't-miss prospect. Nelson is talking to Ross, but isn't going to call home to his family or to St. Joe's head coach Phil Martelli every day for counsel. Nelson has to discover on his own whether he is talented enough to make the jump. If he feels comfortable with his game, and he's confident that he'll go in the first round, then he could bolt.

But he won't be any closer to any decision until Friday night at the earliest.

"I have to be in the first round (to stay in the draft)," Nelson said. "I won't accept anything less than that."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.