The Summit League Tournament may have wrapped up, but a former star of the event is making a name for himself on the biggest stage.
SDSU standout Nate Wolters and his Milwaukee Bucks were in Minneapolis this week to take on the Timberwolves during his successful rookie campaign in the NBA.
"A guard, six foot, four inches from South Dakota State, number six, Nate Wolters."
It's been a long road for Nate Wolters. The former star at South Dakota State went from playing basketball at a small division one school, to taking on the best the sport has to offer.
"It's a huge difference, especially from a mid-major. Just the athleticism from these guys. I'm still learning, but I think I'm getting more comfortable," Milwaukee Bucks Guard Nate Wolters said.
Wolters was drafted in the second round last year and was traded twice before finally landing with the Milwaukee Bucks. He started for the team early, but for most of the first half of the season Wolters played sparingly, averaging 19 minutes on the court. His minutes have increased, starting the last 19 games for Milwaukee, and averaging 27 minutes a game.
"It's nice sticking to a role. I've started for a while now so you kind of get use to your role," Wolters said.
He is also grateful for the playing time Head Coach Larry Drew is giving him.
"Coach Drew is giving me a lot of opportunity, lot of playing experience so it's been good. Not too many second round picks get this opportunity, so I'm just trying to make the most of it," Wolters said.
Wolters has had a successful rookie season so far, averaging 7 points and three assists a game.
For the Jackrabbits, Wolters was known as a scorer, becoming the school's all-time leader in points during his senior season. Where he is turning heads in the NBA is his decision making, averaging less than a turnover a game.
SDSU Head Basketball Coach Scott Nagy isn't surprised to see what type of player his former star has become.
"When you look at what he's done with his assist to turnover ratio I think most people were questioning whether or not he could score like he did in college, but I knew when he went to the NBA his focus wasn't going to be scoring. It was going to be running a basketball team, and he's done it really well," Head Coach Scott Nagy said.
No matter his stats, people were interested in him when he returned home. The St. Cloud native doesn't normally have much attention before tip-off, but he understands the importance of playing in front of those who cheer the loudest for him.
"Yeah it'll be fun just to play in front of family, friends that haven't seen me play in the NBA so it'll be a cool experience for them," Wolters says.
Nagy is keeping an eye on him as well. When he's not coaching the current Jackrabbits, he watches his most famous Jackrabbit on TV.
"I'm probably just like a dad when he doesn't play I get frustrated and think he should be playing,' Nagy said.
Wolters was traveling when his former team lost in the Summit League semifinal game. He's still good friends with many of the players, so he was upset to see the final score.
The average age of the Bucks is just 25 years old. The team traveled to Atlanta today. They have 18 games remaining until the end of the season, when the team will continue to rebuild in the off-season.
"A lot of seniors on that team and we had a lot of good years together so it's tough to see them lose," Wolters said.
Wolters had a lot of good years at the Summit League Tournament too. He has played in numerous arenas across the county, including opening the season at the famous Madison Square Garden, but he says that doesn't compare to playing in Sioux Falls in front of thousands screaming Jacks fans.
"A lot of great memories there. Obviously making the tournament back-to-back years. Yeah the fans are unbelievable there, homecourt advantage so it was a lot of fun. The atmosphere was probably the best I ever played at," Wolters said.
Wolter's success hasn't led to success for his team, as the Bucks have the worst record in the NBA. But the rookie thinks the lumps they're taking now will help the team grow towards the future.
"We got a young team. Lot of us younger guys getting a lot of minutes. It's been fun. I think we're playing a little bit better lately. Competing pretty good, so hopefully we can finish the season strong," Wolters said.
Even with a struggling team, Wolters hopes he can grow as a player, and become not just a name known in the Midwest, but across the entire NBA.
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