BROOKINGS, S.D. – By his own admission, Nate Wolters wasn’t much of a threat last season from the three-point line.
The South Dakota State guard, whose evening routine includes taking hundreds of shots in an empty Frost Arena, said he worked hard this year to improve his outside shooting.
“I’ve shot a pretty good percentage this year, and I think that’s made the defense honest,” he said. “I think I’ve become a better passer, as well.”
Wolters is a quiet Midwestern kid who leads by example, but the spotlight was on him earlier this season when he scored 53 points in a game, tops in Division I. And now he and the Jackrabbits are back on college basketball’s biggest stage, facing No. 4 seed Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.
Wolters’ high school coach says there’s no player he’d rather see with the ball in the final seconds if the Jackrabbits have a chance against the Wolverines.
“When we needed a bucket, he definitely just seemed to always have the ball in his hands and make the right decision,” said Randy Jordan, who coached Wolters at St. Cloud (Minn.) Tech High School. “He’s always been a competitor and always been a go-to guy down the stretch. He probably hit five, six game-winners for us in the three years that he played.”
Wolters, a 6-4 senior whose only Division I scholarship offer came from South Dakota State, captured attention last year when the Jackrabbits made their first trip to the NCAA tournament, losing to Baylor 68-60. A CBS Sports blogger even gave him his own slogan — “Naters Gonna Nate” — which has spread to T-shirts, arena signs and a Twitter hashtag.
He became a sensation again in February when he scored that school-record 53 against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) and broke another mark with nine three-pointers.
Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy said he’s heard people question Wolters’ defense, but the guard plays 40 minutes and a lapse sometimes can be because he’s tired. He said Wolters has great anticipation and is much more athletic than people think.
“Nate is a tremendous defender when he decides he’s going to be a good defender,” Nagy said.
Wolters said the Jackrabbits are a more talented and experienced team than last year, and knowing what to expect this year will help as they try to pull off an upset.
He said he’d like to continue playing basketball after college, and he knows he’s caught the eye of some NBA scouts, but his concentration this week is on the NCAA tournament.
“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on winning,” Wolters said. “I’ve only got a couple more weeks of my college career left, so I’m just trying to make the most of it. It’s been a great experience, and we’re hoping that we can play a little bit longer.”