Jackrabbits jump onto national stage

John Green

After a standout season in 2011-12, the SDSU men’s basketball team is the conference favorite to do it again this season.

Coming off of their first ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance in March, the Jackrabbits were the talk of South Dakota and reached a level of unprecedented national attention.

“This will be a new challenge,” said head coach Scott Nagy, referring to the sheer amount of attention the Jacks received all season long last year.

SDSU won its first-ever Summit League Tournament March 6 to earn the automatic bid into the NCAA postseason.  Five days later, the Jacks learned that they had received a 14-seed amongst the 68-team field, facing the third-seeded Baylor Bears in Albuquerque, N.M. at The Pit. Despite jumping out to a 12-point lead early in the game, the Jacks were unable to hold off the Bears, losing 68-60 in an emotionally draining contest.  Baylor went on to win three more games in the tournament before falling to eventual national champion, Kentucky, in the Elite Eight.

In addition to all the attention the team received, individual honors added to the press releases surrounding SDSU last winter.  Junior point guard Nate Wolters garnered national attention after the Jacks defeated Pac-12 regular season winner Washington in Seattle, 92-73 in early December.  Wolters scored a career-high 34 points, drawing comparisons from Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar to former Pac-10 guard Jason Kidd and creating a montage of highlights that left even the most ardent of SDSU fans dizzy. The win only set the stage for what would be a tremendous season for Wolters and Co. The six-foot-three junior went on to receive distinctions such as being named to the Summit League all-tournament team, the Summit League Tournament MVP, a 2012 Lou Henson All-American, and an AP Honorary Mention All-American.  Along with Wolters, teammates Tony Fiegen, Brayden Carlson, Jordan Dykstra, and Chad White will all return for the 2012-13 season, raising expectations for another impressive season.  But the Jacks will be without the leadership of graduating senior Griffan Callahan, whose toughness and physicality contributed to the spectacular season in 2011-12.

“You can never replace a guy like Griffan,” Nagy said.  “You can make up for his production, but his toughness will be missed.  The team will have to find a way.”

With perennial power Oral Roberts leaving the Summit League for the Southland Conference for the 2012-13 season, most are picking SDSU as the favorites to win the conference, a dilemma that places pressure to win in an already tough league.  Unlike the previous seven seasons, the Jacks find themselves as league favorites, and thus pressure is already building for SDSU to repeat their 2012 performance.

But Scott Nagy wants nothing to do with a repeat.  He feels that keeping the expectations at the same level will lead to complicity and ultimately, failure.  Satisfaction will not cut it.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Was it enough?’” said Nagy.  “Or was it just a taste of what you really want?”