Greg Nelson, member of JU’s 1970 basketball team, passes away

Greg Nelson, right, with his basketball teammate Artis Gilmore, left, and former JU president Fran Kinne. (photo courtesy Laura Evans/Jacksonville University) (Laura S Evans)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On a team with basketball stars such as Artis Gilmore, Rex Morgan and Pembroke Burroughs, Greg Nelson didn’t get as much publicity as the Jacksonville University Dolphins won their way to the 1970 National Championship game against UCLA. But he was a valuable member of the team that captured the imagination of a city.

The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 12 points and nearly seven rebounds per game in three seasons with the Dolphins.

Nelson passed away on Monday. His family released the following statement:

Jacksonville University has lost a treasured member of our Dolphin family. Greg Nelson, JU graduate, successful businessman, and key member of the 1970 national championship game finalist JU basketball team, passed away at the age of 71. Nelson was a faithful friend and staunch supporter of his alma mater. For decades, he partnered with the University in expanding opportunities for students and investing in the revitalization of the Arlington community. Through various funding support and property grants, Mr. Nelson was instrumental in the development of JU’s cutting-edge Occupational Therapy facility, the University’s North Hall, our new Health Sciences Complex and our unique academic partnership at the world-class Dolphin Pointe Health Care skilled nursing facility.

1970 JU Dolphins basketball team (Jacksonville University)

Jacksonville University President Tim Cost considered Mr. Nelson a dear friend:

“I vividly remember watching Greg Nelson and Artis Gilmore lead the Dolphins to the NCAA tournament in 1970. When I returned to campus in 2012 to become the President of Jacksonville University, Greg, along with his wonderful wife Denise, and I not only became friends but partners, because we shared a love for this University and a passion to see it reach new heights. Greg was a visionary and a collaborator, always bringing people together to accomplish things that seemed impossible to many. He was honest and direct; you always knew where you stood with Greg. And he was generous with both his resources and his time. His leadership and steadfast support has been transformational for our University and for Arlington, and he will be greatly missed.”

Jacksonville University Athletic Director Alex Ricker-Gilbert had this to say of Mr. Nelson:

“It’s incredibly sad to hear the news of Greg’s passing. As a member of the 1969-70 men’s basketball team he helped reshape the makeup of our city and as an alum he worked tirelessly to reinvigorate our campus community. He was an incredible ambassador of not only athletics but of Jacksonville University and his transformational contributions beyond his time as a student-athlete will live on for decades to come.”

Remarks from teammate Artis Gilmore:

“Greg and I had a great relationship that started on the court. Everybody on the team worked really hard, but Greg was certainly one of our leaders and a big reason behind our success. We used to laugh about a photo that was taken at one of our games that shows me blocking a shot near the top of the backboard. And there’s Greg -- Number 55 -- walking back from mid-court. And we used to joke all the time that this outstanding photograph would never have taken place if he had taken care of his job playing defense! We teased each other. But we were a family, and our hearts and souls are part of Jacksonville University.”

Mr. Nelson graduated from Jacksonville University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He was a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Psi Fraternity. Mr. Nelson served on the University’s Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2016 and in 2014 was named among the “80 Alumni You Oughta Know,” in honor of the 80th anniversary of the University’s founding. Mr. Nelson joined many of his JU teammates last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their historic journey to the NCAA championship tournament.

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