By Matt Norlander
It's the post we've -- OK, mainly just me -- been waiting for. I'd love to start by proclaiming I have Nate Wolters' phone number and you don't, so let's do that. We may text later. It's cool. I'll be creating many variations of the graphic above, by the way, once South Dakota State gets more photos into the AP and Getty Images picture bins.
And before I get to my conversation with Wolters from Tuesday afternoon, I have to mention that he's very much aware of the Twitter meme that's become my adoration for his play. When people are tweeting at me whenever Wolters cracks the 20-point barrier, it's clearly something I have to attach myself to for the remainder of this season. I eagerly accept the affiliation.
Wolters also knows about Goodman preventing me from including him on our Top 100 College Basketball Players list. Good kid and a quiet one, too. Doesn't want too much attention, but if he keeps up his play, more and more's coming.
Moving on, South Dakota State is now 10-4, fresh off that complete beat-down of Washington, in Washington's house, Sunday afternoon. Wolters went for 34 poitns and seven assists and no turnovers. It was a result that Huskies forward C.J. Wilcox said "shocked" him and his team.
"I think they came out with no energy and we jumped on them early," Wolters said. "Out on the floor, I think they were a little stunned by the start that we had."
It was the win necessary to justify not only what SDSU has done this year, but also critical after losing 89-70 to 5-6 North Dakota last Thursday. It was a terrible loss, unlike the other three the Jackrabbits have taken on this year (Nebraska, Minnesota and Georgia all being Big Six variety, of course). Wolters has been hobbled (though you wouldn't know it) but a bum left ankle, which he tweaked during the Dec. 10 game against North Dakota -- a 92-54 South Dakota State win.
It was ironically followed five days later by a loss to the Fighting Sioux.
“That North Dakota loss was real bad,” Wolters said.
No matter, the Washington win washed away the bad L, and Wolters is the big reason SDSU is in the running to win the Summit, competing alongside Oakland and Oral Roberts.
Wolters is 6-4, 195 pounds, but was a late-grower in high school. He came to South Dakota State rail thin; he's put on 20 pounds since arriving on campus 27 months ago. Wolters is currently in the top 10 percent nationally in a slew of categories, most notably minutes played, offensive rating, assist rate and turnover percentage.
His background: you guessed it -- not highly recruited. In fact, South Dakota State didn't catch on until just before his senior season, and a few other late-comers didn't offer him scholarships until his high school playing career was over. Wolters debated SDSU or D-II Augustana, located in Sioux Falls. He very much considered passing up Division-I basketball.Fortunately for the Jackrabbits and my credibility, he didn't. Now he's one of the most vital players to his team in the nation, akin to Jared Sullinger's value to Ohio State or Thomas Robinson's importance to Kansas. Wolters won't go there, though.
“Our good shooters make it easier on me, so we drive and kick a lot for 3s," he said, transitioning the conversation to what the team needs to work on. “We’re not great defensively now, but we’re definitely better than last year. Our personality is we want to score, play good offense and become more of a defensive-minded team."
You get that kind of spin from media-savvy players at big schools who are used to questions nonstop from October through March. Wolters is high-major in his ability to go full-on boring with a quote. And that's a compliment.
My colleague Jeff Borzello has debated with me this season about the Summit League's best player. He's said it's Oakland's Reggie Hamilton. I recently relented, choosing to go to the dark side and agree with Borzello. The next day Wolters responded with his Washington performance. I won't ever betray that trust again.
As for Hamilton, he and Wolters are actually acquaintances. They never met prior to college, but have connected after games and messaged each other over the past two years. In fact, Wolters told me he reached out and made that first move on Facebook, clicking the friend request button.
Those two will vie for the Player of the Year award in the Summit. We don't have to wait long to see Part One of their head-to-head: Oakland plays at South Dakota State Dec. 30.