Confidence helps ascent for Dakota Wesleyan guard Nick Wittler
Nick Wittler did not play more than five minutes for the Tigers all of last season, but is now a starting guard for DWU
MITCHELL — Confidence has been the driving force for Nick Wittler’s success with the Tigers this season.
As a freshman, Wittler sat behind starting guards Nick Harden and Sawyer Schultz, as well as the first guard off the bench in Bradley Dean. With three guards on DWU’s roster averaging at least 17 minutes per game, the varsity minutes were slim for the freshman. The lack of opportunities however didn’t deter Wittler as he went into the offseason, focusing on being a better off-ball player against steeper competition.
Coming into his sophomore season, the Onida native has gone from playing less than five minutes in the entire 2020-21 season, to playing 26.7 minutes per game, averaging 10.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field and earning a starting spot for Dakota Wesleyan.
“I think last year was my first year ever to not play and since I’m from a pretty small school, I’m used to playing every game,” Wittler said. “In the summer, I just tried to work on my game, get better at moving without the ball and learning how to play with other people that are equally as talented or better.”
After dedicating his 2021 summer to playing basketball, Wittler came into his sophomore season with a lot more confidence. DWU head coach Matt Wilber said he liked Wittler’s aggressiveness since he was a freshman and with him coming into this season with a lot more confidence, it was only a matter of time before he started to earn some quality minutes for the Tigers.
“He’s a tough kid that just plays tremendously aggressive,” Wilber said. “I was hopeful for him coming into this year because last year he had a good year for us even though he didn’t play a ton of minutes. With our junior varsity team and in practice, he was really surging and he’s carried that on to this year. He just plays free with a lot of confidence and the combination of those things is what’s going to get guys minutes.”
Throughout the first four games of this season, Wittler averaged 16 minutes per game off the bench and had two games with double-figures in points. In the fifth game of the season against then-ranked No. 12 Morningside, Wittler got his first start of his career for the Tigers. He notched a career-high 24 points, along with a career-high five made 3-pointers.
“It was fun especially because it was a rivalry game against Morningside,” Wittler said. “I was pretty nervous to start but once I got out there, it was the same as practice. I know all my guys have faith in me so it's pretty easy to play with the group of guys we got.”
Since then, Wittler has played an average of 31 minutes in the last 10 games for Dakota Wesleyan. He’s averaging 12.6 points on 43 percent shooting from the field, while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and averaging 1.3 steals per game.
Wilber said that Wittler is getting comfortable and getting more experience with this level of competition only leaves the future bright for the 20 year old sophomore.
Two years ago, Wittler helped lead Sully Buttes to a 20-2 record during his senior year of high school. Wittler cleared 1,500 career points and led the Chargers to the SoDak 16 where they beat Herreid/Selby 58-23. Wittler had a 40-point outing the game prior against Potter County to help Sully Buttes reach the state tournament.
Wittler went from playing against South Dakota high school Class B competition to NAIA college level competition and Wilber said that transition from a high school with approximately 80 students to any college is a tougher adjustment than people realize.
“The majority of our local guys have come from small South Dakota schools,” Wilber said. “That’s a big transition when you’re playing high school basketball in a smaller area and then coming into college. That transition from high school to college is a really tough transition, for anyone, especially on the defensive end because guys see some players that are seasoned and from different areas of the country that do stuff that they haven’t had to guard or experience yet.”
Wittler has now shown the ability to play against the competition at the NAIA level and hold his own. The sophomore guard’s confidence is something that DWU feeds off and Wittler being a team-first player will only help this team as the season wanes.
“He’s got a lot of basketball ahead of him and I’m just excited for how he’s gotten off to this start,” Wilber said. “You can go down swinging with a guy like Nick Wittler. … That’s about the biggest compliment I can give a player because you know you can win with him. I know if things aren’t good one game, that he’s going to care and be upset that he or the team didn’t play well and while he’s a score-first guard for us, he’s a team-first mentality player.”