Nate Wolters scored 53 points to lead South Dakota State to victory last night, the latest and biggest signature moment of what is quickly becoming the greatest career performance by a South Dakota athlete ever.
I’m not going to offer any analysis or further commentary on the performance or on Nate himself — we’ve got a guy for that, and he does a pretty decent job.
For South Dakota State fans, Wolters’ consistent heroics represent the reward, the payback, for the lumps they took and the hard times they endured in the early days of the transition.
For others, however, Wolters seems to represent something else.
As the beat writer for Augustana and a Minnesota Gopher fan, though, every time Wolters does something spectacular, there’s the obligatory - He almost came here! - from Augie fans, and the - Way to go, Tubby! Why isn’t he playing for us?!? - from Gopher fans.
I would like these people to stop, because Nate Wolters is right where he belongs.
I get why Augie fans look longingly at the highlight shows and why they may have felt some pangs of jealousy when Wolters led the Jacks to the NCAA Tournament last year, but the reality is that Wolters would have been — well, I don’t really want to say ‘wasted’ at Augustana, but does anyone think he’d have gotten as much out of his career playing in the NSIC? He wouldn’t have received nearly the same exposure in Division II, and would’ve had to share the ball with Cody Schilling for at least three years, and while that may very well have helped the Vikings contend for a national championship, it almost certainly would’ve kept Wolters firmly off the NBA draft radar.
I’m not an Augie fan, so I guess it’s hard to know what it’s like watching such a great player and wondering what might have been, but at this point, that kind of thinking would be selfish. If you ask me, Augie should be proud of the fact that Nate liked Augie enough to almost go there. But he did the right thing going to SDSU.
And as for Gopher fans it’s kind of the same deal.
Fans and media have been coming down on Tubby Smith for the last couple years for not recruiting Wolters coming out of St. Cloud, and the criticism isn’t unfair. It’s pretty obvious Wolters could help a Gopher team that’s having trouble living up to expectations this season.
Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, shortly after Wolters’ 53-point game hit the news, tweeted: “Our guy Nate Wolters just scored 53 points. Sure he couldn’t help out that deep, talented Gophers bench.”
Right, Jim, because why would Nate want to be a four-year starter at SDSU and almost single-handedly revolutionize the program when he could’ve gone to Minnesota and ‘helped out on the bench’?
Sure, Wolters is good enough, right now, to be a Big 10 starter, but by his own admission, he wasn’t ready for that level of play coming out of high school. That’s why you never hear Nate complain that he wasn’t more heavily recruited coming out of high school. He doesn’t seem to have a chip on his shoulder at all.
Today, Wolters is a legit NBA prospect, and last night’s 50-point game just might be the signature moment that pushes him over the hump and ensures he’ll be taken in the draft.
But it seems fair to assert that he wouldn’t be in that position if he hadn’t taken the path he did. He’s spent four years at SDSU transforming himself from a good to great player, taking the Jacks from Division I also-rans to an NCAA tournament team in the process.
Sure, things might have worked out nearly as well if he’d gone to Augie, or Minnesota, or Colorado State, or somewhere else.
But they also might not have.
Be happy for Nate. Be happy for SDSU. They’re perfect for each other.