SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Nate Wolters isn’t used to coming off the bench.
He routinely played every minute starring at South Dakota State, after all. Now he’s a rookie fighting for playing time with the Milwaukee Bucks, coming back to South Dakota for the first time as a pro for an NBA preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.
Wolters said he’s ready to jump in and contribute when given the chance.
“I’ve never really not started my whole life, but that’s an adjustment I’ll have to make,” said Wolters, a St. Cloud, Minn., high school standout. “Whenever I get the opportunity to play, I’ll have to come in and bring energy right away.”
Wolters, 22, was drafted 38th overall in June by the Washington Wizards before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and eventually the Bucks. He should have been selected far higher, South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said.
Nagy said he’s heard people underestimate the 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard’s athleticism, and some have questioned whether Wolters will be able to defend against quick guards. But Wolters dedicates time to improving his game more than anybody, Nagy said, and the coach thinks his former player will do just fine at the next level.
“Nate’s instincts are great because he’s played so many games,” Nagy said.
Wolters ended his career with the Jackrabbits as the school’s all-time leader in points (2,363) and assists (669). He averaged nearly 23 points per game for SDSU last season, when he was a third-team All-American.
He got his first taste of higher competition during five NBA Summer League games in Las Vegas, averaging 9.4 points and shooting 41 percent. He ended the July session on a high note, scoring 20 points and grabbing five rebounds during a 90-80 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
“I thought I adjusted pretty well throughout the week,” he said.
His pro education has continued in training camp, where’s he’s had to learn to drive into the incredibly long reach of Bucks center Larry Sanders and forward John Henson.
“When you get in the lane, you’ve got to be pretty crafty,” he said. “Otherwise they’re going to block your shot.”
For now, Wolters will have to battle for playing time behind fellow point guards Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour. He played 12 minutes of the Bucks’ preseason opener Tuesday night in Cleveland, scoring 2 points with three assists and two rebounds.
The limited minutes will be a departure from his time at South Dakota State.
“I played all 40 minutes of the game, basically, and had a lot of freedom and shot a lot,” he said. “Coming here, I don’t really know how much time I’ll play or when I’ll get in. It’ll be a totally different adjustment and something I’m looking forward to.”
Nagy said Wolters’ most difficult adjustment will likely be off the court, as a quiet and conservative Midwest guy adapts to the NBA lifestyle.
“His main focus has been basketball his whole life,” Nagy said. “Now he’s in a business.”
The preseason matchup in Sioux Falls will christen the Sanford Pentagon, a new 3,250-seat court that will serve as the home for the NBA D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. Nagy said most of South Dakota State’s players and coaches will make the 60-mile trip south from Brookings to see the man who helped put the Jackrabbits on the national map.
Jackrabbits forward Marcus Heemstra, Wolters’ college roommate, said the players are excited about seeing their former teammate in a pro uniform.
“We’re all rooting for him,” Heemstra said. “We can’t wait to watch him play.”
Wolters said it will be fun to see old friends.
“It’s pretty cool,” Wolters said. “I didn’t really expect to be going back to South Dakota anytime soon.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)