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Former SDSU standout making impact with NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks’ Nate Wolters in action during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday in Philadelphia. ( AP photo)

Nate Wolters is making a name for himself across the Upper Midwest.

A Minnesota native and former South Dakota State University standout, Wolters has immediately impacted the Milwaukee Bucks in his rookie NBA season.

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The second-round 2013 NBA Draft selection, who played four years for the Jackrabbits, has seven starts and played in 14 of the Bucks’ 16 games. He is seeing substantial minutes each night he suits up and now is becoming a household name in Wisconsin.

“Right now, I’m trying to stay in the league as long as possible,” Wolters said Monday from Boston in an interview with The Daily Republic. “Just trying to do whatever the coach wants me to do, whatever that role is, and try to do it to the best of my ability.”

Wolters admitted it’s been nice to stay close to his hometown of St. Cloud, Minn., since leaving after high school.

With the Jackrabbits, he started 11 of 30 games as a freshman and eventually went on to lead the school to back-to-back NCAA National tournament appearances as a junior and senior. He left with school records in points (2,363) and assists (669) and was named an All-American as a senior.

Fourteen games into his NBA career, Wolters is averaging 26.5 minutes, 7.4 points, 4.4 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game. In all but one game he’s played this year, he’s gotten at least 16 minutes of playing time.

Although Wolters has seen an unexpected amount of playing time early, he had to sit out two of the Bucks’ last three games because of flu-like symptoms. Monday afternoon, Wolters said he’s feeling better and will be available to play tonight, when Milwaukee (3-13) plays the Celtics.

Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. at TD Bank Garden in Boston.

Wolters returns to the site of his second regular-season NBA game, a night in which he tallied a career-high 14 points in about 29 minutes off the bench. He added six assists and two rebounds.

“That was a fun game,” said Wolters, who was selected with the 38th overall pick in the draft by the Washington Wizards. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and finally landed with the Bucks in a second draft-day trade he was involved in. “We were able to come back, being down by about 20 at half, and come back and win. It was good to get our first win and was a good experience for me, just because I was able to play a lot and help the team win.”

After Wolters’ nice night against Boston, he started seven straight games from Nov. 2 to Nov. 16 in place of the Bucks’ other two point guards, Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight, both former first-round draft picks. Ridnour (back) and Knight (hamstring) have both been fighting injuries this year, giving Wolters an opportunity to make his mark. Wolters hasn’t started since Nov. 16, but he still has the most starts among point guards in the team. Knight has five starts and Ridnour has three.

Also, in each game Wolters has played, he has had more assists than turnovers, including a career-high 10 assists in his first-career start, which came Nov. 3 against Toronto.

“Coming into the season, I wasn’t expecting to get much playing time, just knowing we had Luke and Brandon ahead of me,” Wolters said. “It’s worked out that I’ve gotten a lot of playing time early in my career, so I think that will help me out. That’s definitely going to help me out in the long run.”

Wolters is hoping to improve his shooting percentage, saying he’s seen the game become faster while transitioning from college to the NBA. He’s made only 2 of 21 three-point attempts and is hitting 40 percent of all field goals. He’s also focusing on learning how to run the offense and improving, he said.

On Saturday, the Bucks snapped an 11-game losing skid in a home game against the Celtics. Wolters was out due to illness, but he said it was the first time he’s ever been a part of a major slide like that. In high school at St. Cloud Tech, he led the team to a third-place finish at the state tournament in his junior and senior seasons. At SDSU, the Jackrabbits had three winning seasons in Wolters’ four years at the school.

“This has definitely been a change,” he said. “We didn’t win for about three weeks. I’d say the closest thing to that is my freshman year of college, when we were like a .500 team. I wasn’t used to that just because in high school we won so much. “Now I’ve never experienced something like this, so hopefully we can get on a roll here and start winning some games.”

The last five games Wolters has played, he’s come off the bench and averaged about five points, three assists and 16 minutes of action. He’s not starting, but that’s not something that’s extremely important to him.

“Of course everyone wants to get a lot of playing time and score a lot of points, but that’s not how it works,” Wolters said. “Whatever my role is, I’m just going to try and do that and stay in this league as long as possible “Honestly, everyone wants to stay in and play a lot, but it’s the NBA. It’s tough. It’s the best players in the world and hard to get a starting spot.”