He’s known as “Little Skinny,” a nickname that has stuck since Jaden Nielsen began playing basketball at The Hoop in Salem as a third grader.
Credit Price Johnson, owner/operator of The Hoop, for the catchy nickname, which seemed like a natural fit for Nielsen. After all, his dad is Hoopla legend and former college basketball player Ryan Skinner.
Nielsen, who will be a freshman at South Salem High School this fall, is a rising talent with Division I college potential as a point guard.
“I don’t think he has big shoes to fill. He has his own shoes to fill,” said Skinner, who lives in Casa Grande, Ariz. “From what I’m seeing, he’s taking on the challenge.”
That’s a fact.
Nielsen has been invited to attend the 2015 CP3 Rising Stars National Camp on Aug. 7-9 in Lewisville, N.C., a prestigious basketball camp created by Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, an eight-time NBA All-Star.
“It means I could be ranked one of the best in the nation,” said Nielsen, 15, who is 5-foot-7 ½, 140 pounds. “I hope I can learn from Chris Paul and other players, learning new ways to pass, new ways to dribble, maybe getting my shot better.”
Nielsen is adept at the art of dribble penetration, and he has no problem creating his own shot. But he also creates opportunities for teammates, and those attributes were on display this week during a practice at The Hoop with Salem Hoop 2019, one of the top eighth-grade traveling teams on the West Coast.
In terms of point guard vernacular, Nielsen has an excellent handle. He routinely dribbles the ball behind his back and between his legs using both hands, while looking up to survey the entire court.
He has already received inquiries from several Division I schools, including Oregon State, Portland State, San Diego State and Seattle University.
Johnson has no doubt that Nielsen will be a Division I player.
“You’re gonna see him on TV,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s son, Dane, coaches Salem Hoop 2019 and researched the 2015 CP3 Rising Stars National Camp, which is an invitation-only camp for the top 25 basketball prospects in North America at each position who are entering the ninth grade. He posted a YouTube video of Nielsen, and that helped lead to an invitation from camp organizers.
Since Skinner brought his son to The Hoop six years ago, it’s been like a home away from home for Jaden, who lives in Salem with his mom, Kelli Nielsen.
“He comes in every morning to work out. He has a key to the building,” Price Johnson said. “He works harder than anybody else.”
Although Nielsen is beginning to receive national attention, humility remains part of his makeup.
“That’s very true to who he is,” Kelli Nielsen said. “He’s a special hard worker. I’m such a proud mom and I owe a lot of it to The Hoop.”
By no means does Nielsen view himself as a finished product.
“I still have some work to do,” Jaden said. “I definitely wanna worry just about high school right now. Try to get to the Chiles Center (for the 6A state tournament) and try to win a state championship.”
The Saxons placed fourth in the state last year and third in 2014.
Nielsen played on South Salem’s 2015 varsity summer league team. Don’t be surprised if he’s a major contributor as a freshman next season for the Saxons, who graduated nine seniors.
“He’s been playing at lot of basketball in these early years of his life and he’s got some game-ready tools that we can use at the varsity level for sure,” South Salem boys basketball coach Tyler Allen said.
Playing at the CP3 Rising Stars National Camp and having the opportunity to compete against the top players in the nation in his age group should be a major benefit for Nielsen moving forward.
When it comes to playing basketball, he can never get enough court time.
“It’s a good life,” Nielsen said with a smile.
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
The Nielsen file
Who: Jaden “Little Skinny” Nielsen, a freshman point guard at South Salem High School
Of note: A member of the Salem Hoop 2019 traveling team. Nielsen has been invited to participate in the 2015 CP3 Rising Stars National Camp on Aug. 7-9 in Lewisville, N.C. Donations to help sponsor the trip are being accepted at gofundme.com/miniskinny