Auburn Hills — Nate Wolters' journey to become one of the nation's top point guards sounds like a story straight out of Hollywood.
A teenager from St. Cloud, Minn., who was snubbed by nearly every Division I program, spends countless hours shooting with a team manager in a dark gym with the hopes of taking down a storied program in its home state.
Wolters will have that chance today when No. 13 seed South Dakota State plays No. 4 seed Michigan at The Palace.
"We're going to have to play extremely well to beat them," Wolters said.
Most eyes will be on the matchup between Wolters (22.7 points, 5.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds) and Michigan point guard Trey Burke (19.2 points, 6.7 assists).
But it's Burke who is a leading contender for national player of the year.
"He's a great player, probably the best point guard in the country," Wolters said. "He kind of reminds me of Chris Paul, just the way he gets around guys and makes his teammates better."
Burke, however, said too much is being made of the individual matchup. Still, he called Wolters a "really good player."
"It's just my job to try and slow him down and make things tough for him," Burke said.
Under the radar
After his junior year in high school, South Dakota State was the only school that offered a Division I scholarship — the Jackrabbits, then, were in the midst of a transition from Division II.
After his senior season and consecutive third-place finishes in Minnesota's highest classification, Wolters had offers from Colorado State and North Dakota State, but decided on South Dakota State.
"At that time, I didn't think anything of it," Wolters said. "I didn't think I was good enough to be a high-major player or anything like that."
Michigan State assistant Dane Fife, then the coach at Fort Wayne, didn't think so either.
"He's kind of off the beaten path where he played," Fife said. "His jumper was good, but it was probably not high major.
"But it is now."
Great work ethic
After his freshman season at South Dakota State, Wolters began his quest to prove all his doubters wrong.
One night that summer, he asked team manager Austin Miller to come rebound for him, and after a couple weeks, it became a planned event.
"He was such a humble guy," said Miller, who has lived with Wolters the past two years. "He misses a shot, and he apologizes for you having to chase down the rebound. I was honestly confused at that."
Miller and Wolters were in the gym at least five days a week, often starting after 10 p.m.
"We shot with the lights turned off more in the first year than with the lights turned on," Miller said.
And the work paid off for Wolters' sophomore season, when he improved his scoring average from 10.1 to 19.5.
Although he improved that to 21.2 points as a junior and led the Jackrabbits to their first NCAA Tournament appearance, his 3-point shooting dropped from 41 percent to 24 percent, allowing teams to step under screens and prevent him from attacking the basket.
So, Wolters went back to the gym with his roommate, and shot 39 percent this season.
"I'm in awe of his work ethic," Miller said.
"He gets in that spotlight and he continues to work harder."
Ready for this
To prepare for his matchup against Burke, Wolters said he watched a lot of film, specifically Michigan's games against Indiana, where Victor Oladipo defended Burke.
At 6-foot-3, Wolters has an advantage on the 6-foot Burke, who may have a strength edge.
"He's not going to walk out and say, 'I'm the best guy on the floor,'" Miller said. "But he's going to walk out and say, 'I'm here, too, for a reason.'"
Wolters, of course, believes the Jackrabbits have a shot, and hopes all the hard work pays off.
"You see Cinderella teams each year," Wolters said.
"I think that gives you a little bit of confidence. It's obviously tough to do and the odds are against us.
"We're going to go out and have fun, try to play loose and see what happens."