Will Wolters be “The Next?”
South Dakota State guard could become latest second-round find
The second time around has rewarded the Milwaukee Bucks multiple times over the years.
They believe it will again.
Since the National Basketball Association Draft was condensed to two rounds in 1989, the Bucks have made their share of valuable discoveries in the second round.
Heading the list is Michael Redd, whom Milwaukee selected out of The Ohio State University with the 43rd overall pick in 2000. Redd developed into an NBA All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, improved his points-per-game average in each of his first seven seasons -- something only one other player in league history had done.
During the 11 seasons Redd spent wearing No. 22 for Milwaukee, he became the franchise’s fourth-ranking all-time scorer with 11,554 points. He also rates among the Bucks’ all-time top 10 in scoring average (fifth, 20 ppg), games played (seventh, 578), minutes played (fifth, 19,334), field goals made (seventh, 4,063), 3-point field goals made (second, 1,003), 3-point field-goal percentage (seventh, .383), free throws made (second, 2,425) and free-throw percentage (10th, .840).
The late Bobby Phills (drafted 45th in 1991), Rafer Alston (39th, 1998), Ersan Ilyasova (36th, 2005), Ramon Sessions (56th, 2007) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (37th, 2008) had to play the waiting game before hearing their names called by the Bucks on draft night, but developed into productive NBA starters.
Milwaukee did not select Nate Wolters during the 2013 NBA Draft; the Washington Wizards did, in the second round with the 38th overall pick.
Before the evening was over, though, Wolters’ draft rights were traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and then to the Bucks, in exchange for the draft rights to Ricky Ledo (the 43rd selection) and a future second-round pick.
Bucks General Manager John Hammond expressed his excitement at the transaction when the team introduced Wolters along with its first-round pick, 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Greece, to the Milwaukee media the day after the draft.
“To get Nate in the second round, pardon me for saying it because we always say it, but I’m going to say it again: We had him on the board as a first-round pick,” Hammond said. “There were other teams, probably, saying the same things about their second-round picks, but we’re really excited to have Nate.
“To have a big guard – he’s a 6-4 point guard -- he scored at South Dakota State because his team needed him to do that. But has a great feel for the game and a great knowledge of how to play the game.”
Wolters became South Dakota State University’s all-time leader in points (2,363), assists (669) and free throws made (648) during his four seasons with the Jackrabbits. He earned third team All-America honors from the Associated Press, National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and Basketball Times following his senior campaign, when he helped lead South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
Wolters posted the NCAA’s highest-scoring game of 2012-13 with 53 points against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, which set both an SDSU single-game and Summit League record for a regulation game. He also eclipsed an SDSU single-game record with nine 3-pointers in the contest.
Wolters averaged 22.3 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game during his senior campaign, ranking fourth nationally in scoring and 21st in assists.
In the process, he became the first player in this century and only the third since the NCAA began keeping assists as an official statistic in 1983-84 to average 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in two separate seasons.
He is also one of just six NCAA players to achieve 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists in a career, with his 2,363 points being the highest scoring total of that select group.
Wolters was understandably a bit bewildered by the turn of events on draft night.
“It was a pretty wide-open draft, especially in my range,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. Those were a crazy couple of minutes. I didn’t know where I was going.
“But I’m sure glad it was the Milwaukee Bucks.”
Hammond noted a common characteristic in the arsenals of Wolters and Antetokounmpo.
“The interesting thing to me about this draft is the two guys we drafted, what they both do best is pass,” Hammond said. “They’re both excellent passers.
“You always categorize people and talk about guys that know how to play, if you know how to catch and pass and have a good feel for the game. Both of these guys know how to play. They have a great feel for the game.”
Wolters no doubt has to overcome some steep odds to carve himself an NBA niche.
Only two previous South Dakota State products have played in the NBA.
Tom Black, a graduate of West Salem (Wis.) High School, was chosen in the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft. He didn’t make his NBA debut until 1970, averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 71 games with Seattle and Cincinnati during the 1970-71 season.
Steve Lingenfelter, an Eau Claire (Wis.) native, was selected by the Washington Bullets in the second round with the 44th overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. He averaged 1.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in seven games with the Bullets in 1982-83 and .7 points and 1.6 rebounds in three games with the San Antonio Spurs in 1983-84.
The Summit League has not historically been a gold mine for NBA franchises, though its 2008 Player of the Year, George Hill, was the starting point guard for the Indiana Pacers in 2012-13 and helped lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Wolters knows what it means to have to prove himself, though.
He led his St. Cloud (Minn.) Tech team to third-place finishes in the Minnesota 4A State Tournament in both his junior, averaged 24.3 points and 6.4 points as a senior and became his school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,767 points.
Named second-team all-state following his senior season by the Associated Press, Wolters considered continuing his career at the NCAA Division-II level, but South Dakota State made him a Division-I offer and he made the most of it.
He’s hoping he can reward the Bucks for their faith in him, too.
“Being drafted to play in the NBA is a dream that I’ve worked my entire life to achieve,” Wolters said in a press release. “Milwaukee is a great organization and I am very appreciative for this opportunity. I can’t wait to start my career as a Buck.”