It's been a long and sometimes difficult journey to the top for the South Dakota State men's basketball team. However, last season, with the right coach, players and a couple of big buckets, Cinderella, dressed in blue and gold, finally danced in the NCAA Tournament.
"Last season was a great experience, a lot of people don't get that shot, we're blessed at SDSU," junior forward Jordan Dykstra said.
Looking back, their first run at the "field of 68" was also little more overwhelming than the 27-8 Jacks expected, says 18th-year head coach Scott Nagy.
"Playing in front of 5,000 people, and on this stage, it was a little overwhelming for us," Nagy said. "At practice, guys were too excited, shooting air balls, I had to go calm them down."
In their biggest game at the Division I level, the Jackrabbits played tense, out of sync, and left a potential upset on the court in a 68-60 loss to the third-seeded Baylor Bears.
"It was a great experience but we left the court thinking we could have won the game," junior guard Brayden Carlson said. "We learned a lot playing against them and will be ready for another team of their caliber."
Still, the experience was invaluable and riding off the high of last season, SDSU was selected preseason No.1 in the Summit League with expectations as high as ever.
"It's great to have those expectations after a great season, hopefully we can live up to them," senior guard Nate Wolters said.
The lineup is loaded. The Jacks return every player but one from a season ago, including forward Tony Fiegen, All-Conference pick Jordan Dysktra and Wooden Award Candidate and Preseason Summit League Player of the Year, Nate Wolters.
"I've played with Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes; Nate Wolters is right up there," Dykstra said. "He is a special, once in a lifetime player."
The perfect player for a team with goals as lofty as SDSU's this season.
"To improve, we want to win more games than any team ever has in South Dakota State history," Nagy added.
In Brookings, Dylan Scott KSFY Sports