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Hometown talent returns to lead DWU men

Preseason injuries opened the door to the starting lineup and Tate Martin kicked it in. When the season started for the Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball team, Martin solidified his presence as the team's point guard with consistent pla...

Tate Martin
Dakota Wesleyan freshman point guard Tate Martin dribbles the ball up court in a game against Dordt College on Dec. 11 at the Corn Palace. (Nick McCutcheon/Republic)

Preseason injuries opened the door to the starting lineup and Tate Martin kicked it in.

When the season started for the Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball team, Martin solidified his presence as the team’s point guard with consistent play and an unselfish attitude.

“It would be crazy for me to say I thought he would be where he is at today,” first-year DWU men’s coach Matt Wilber said of Martin’s play through the first half of the season. “It was one of the situations where a guy gets an opportunity and he takes advantage of it. I’m excited about his game. He has a very good skill set.”

The Tigers came out of their preseason exhibition with injuries to three key players.

Martin has not only solidified the backcourt for the Tigers, he has excelled. The Mitchell native is leading the country in assists per game. He is averaging 7.3 dishes per game and has 110 for the year.

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“We need him out there,” Wilber said. “He is our primary ball handler and he handles pressure well.”

In the Great Plains Athletic Conference, nobody is close to the numbers being put up by Martin. The next closest player in the conference is averaging 4.4 assists per game.

“His numbers have a lot to do with who Tate Martin is,” Wilber said. “The guys are confident shooting when Tate hits them with a pass. I love what we are doing offensively because it plays to his strengths.”

Martin set a season-high in assists with 14 against Trinity Bible earlier this year.

Even though his mentality is pass first, at times this season he has taken a larger role in terms of shooting when his team needs him to.

“There have been times when other guys have struggled and Tate has stepped up and made some big shots for us,” Wilber said.

Against Doane earlier this year, he took over in the second half, finishing with 16 points and helping secure the Tigers’ first GPAC win of the season. He is averaging 8.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and a steal per game. He is also 85 percent from the free-throw line.

“I love coaching the kid,” Wilber said. “It’s impressive to see the level that he is playing at so far knowing that he is only a freshman. There are always things that he can work on, but he is receptive to coaching and open to improving.”

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Martin is no stranger to the Corn Palace faithful who remember seeing him play for the Mitchell Kernels during his high school days.

After his time playing for the Kernels, Martin left Mitchell for the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., but he transferred to DWU midway through the 2012-13 season and used a redshirt as a true freshman.

Martin simply said Mary, a Division II program, was not a good fit for him.

“When you go away, you realize what it’s like to play in Mitchell,” Martin said. “The Corn Palace is the best place in the world to play basketball.”

The fresh start came with familiar faces, as Martin now shares the court with former Kernel teammates Jade Miller and Matt Henriksen.

“Ever since I got back, I’ve been welcomed,” Martin said. “This is a tight group of guys. I’ve played with Jade and Matt as long as I can remember, and it makes it fun when you have that experience of playing with the same guys from high school.”

After an early-season slump, the Tigers have taken a step forward under their new coach and with the leadership of their young point guard. DWU has won five straight, including a win over Hastings College - the sixth-ranked team in NAIA Division II - on Saturday at the Corn Palace.

Martin has been battling ankle injuries in recent weeks, but has no intention of taking a prolonged absence from the team.

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“College basketball goes fast and you just have to battle through it sometimes,” Martin said. “I love being the point guard for this team, and I just hope that coach Wilber continues to have that trust in me.”

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