2013 NBA draft: Locals move on without Gophers

Nate Wolters was the first of three draft picks with Minnesota ties.

SDSU's Nate Wolters dribbles past Michigan's Trey Burke in the second round game of the NCAA Division 1 men's basketball tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich, March 21, 2013.

Courtesy of Elisha Page, Argus Leader

SDSU’s Nate Wolters dribbles past Michigan’s Trey Burke in the second round game of the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich, March 21, 2013.

Jace Frederick

St. Cloud native Nate Wolters was one of three players with Minnesota ties selected in the June 27 NBA draft.

None of those players finished their careers with the Gophers.

Wolters, Roseville native Mike Muscala and former Gophers player Colton Iverson were drafted in the second round. Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, who both finished their careers with the Gophers this spring, went undrafted.

Wolters was one of the nation’s top scorers at South Dakota State from 2009-13. Muscala starred at Bucknell during the same span. Iverson left the Gophers following his junior year in 2011 for Colorado State, where he made the all-conference first team.

The draft results have fueled criticism that the Gophers failed to effectively recruit in-state talent and develop players under then-head coach Tubby Smith.

But coming out of St. Cloud Technical High School, Wolters, a 6-foot-4-inch point guard, didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from a major conference school, including the University of Minnesota.

Wolters didn’t think he was good enough to compete in the Big Ten after high school, let alone the NBA.

“Four or five years ago I didn’t really think [the NBA] was a possibility,” Wolters said. “It was a dream of mine.”

Four years later, Wolters was the first Minnesotan taken off the board as the 38th pick in the NBA draft.

Wolters will enter the NBA Las Vegas summer league with the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-July.

When Wolters joined SDSU, the Jackrabbits had just become a Division I program and were struggling, said Head Coach Scott Nagy. They knew Wolters would be a good player for them.

“In the end, I wanted to play Division I [basketball],” Wolters said. “I liked coach Nagy a lot, too. I figured I’d have a chance to play right away, too, and they’d give me freedom to play my game.”

Wolters did just that. During his career, he started 109 of the 128 games he played, including every game he played during his final three years.

He increased his scoring average each year, averaging 22.3 points his senior season and earning Summit League Player of the Year honors. He also became the school’s first Associated Press All-American.

Wolters became the third NCAA player since 1983-84 to average more than 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in multiple seasons when he accomplished the feat during his junior and senior years. Nagy compared Wolters to former NBA point guard Jason Kidd because of his strong passing and rebounding ability.

“Nate made things a lot easier for [our players],” Nagy said.

Nagy said Wolters “fell in love with the game” at SDSU. His time in the gym led to improvements in his ball handling, shooting and feel for the game.

Wolters led the Jackrabbits to their first Division I NCAA tournament appearance in 2012 and followed it up with a second appearance in 2013.

“I really enjoyed my time there,” Wolters said, “It went way better than expected.”

Wolters finished his SDSU career as the program’s all-time leader in scoring (2,363 points) and assists (669).

“He’s the best player that’s ever played here,” Nagy said. “That’s clear — and that’s easy to say.”

Questions entering the draft centered around Wolters’ lack of athleticism and the competition he faced at SDSU.

Nagy said Wolters played better when the Jackrabbits faced top-tier competition. Wolters said he considered the possibility of being drafted only after his 34-point, seven-assist performance in an upset win over Washington during his junior year.

Nagy said the NBA is suited for Wolters’ game.

“He’s going to get by people,” Nagy said. “He’s going to create problems for the other defenses, so I think he’s going to be a very good NBA player — way better than what people are projecting.”

Although second-round draft picks are not guaranteed NBA contracts, Wolters said one thing is certain.

“I’m going to be living in the gym,” he said. “That’s all I know.”