SIOUX FALLS – Colton Kooima draws a lot of attention from an opponent on the basketball court.
There is good reason for that as the reigning GPAC Player of the year can fill up a stat sheet, but fellow senior Nathan Wedel is hardly just a second option, and with good reason.
“He really worked hard this offseason,” Northwestern Coach Kris Korver said. “He elected to stick around campus and just really focus on getting better. He spent a lot of time working on ball handling, a long time working on his shot and working on his footwork. He really worked hard to refine his game this offseason.
“He is a really competitive kid, he really competes and when defenses are going to go out and focus on Colton that really allows him to be the beneficiary of some lanes to attack.”
Wedel leads the team in scoring at 21.2 points a game, sets the pace in rebounding at 6.3, dishes out the most assists at 118 on the season and has the most steals at 47. The points represent an increase of nearly eight a game over his junior season, a half a rebound a game increase and both his steals and assists are improved over a year ago.
“I think we have a group of guys that blend well together as a team and I think they understand their role,” Korver said. “I think they have to stay in their lane and be the best at whatever role they have. With that said (Wedel) is a competitor and I am sure there is some motivation there to prove the critics wrong.”
Wedel, who Korver credits with being a very versatile defender, and the rest of the Northwestern team will look to build off last year’s run to the second round that ended in a heartbreaking 77-75 loss to Indiana Wesleyan. That came only after Kooima hit the game-winner with four seconds left in the Red Raiders’ tournament opener.
“Our guys put together a great run last year and made a little noise at the national tournament,” said Korver, who will take his team to Sioux Falls for nationals this season after its move from Point Lookout, Missouri. “They also had their hearts broken down there and I think they have used that as motivation all year.”
Red Raider seniors Kooima, Wedel, Riley Francis and Derek Buysse have all played significant minutes together over the past two seasons and it shows on the court for a team that reached No. 1 in the ranking early this season.
“Riley in many ways is our glue,” Korver said. “He can play anywhere two to five for us and his versatility and his basketball IQ are probably the two things that set him apart. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
Kooima, Wedel and Francis have always brought that expectation of success to the court with all three having won state titles in high school.
Korver said for his upperclassmen he draws pride from where they have taken the program after their careers began with back-to-back .500 seasons as freshmen and sophomores.
“They took some lumps early and rather than whine or complain they leveraged those tough experiences and it made them stronger,” he said. “That is going to bode well for life.”
Northwestern, which is a three seed in the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship, will get tested right out of the gate with an 8 p.m. first-round matchup with sixth-seeded Bellevue (Neb.). Bellevue was a team that made the Fab Four last year and ended Briar Cliff’s run.
“They are a group that are very senior dominated,” Korver said. “They won three games last year to get to the Final Four and so they are a group that will come to compete and we fully expect to get their best.”