Mines dis­cov­ers gold with “out­lier” Nate­san

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle New­man

Grow­ing up in Santa Clara, Calif., as the son of In­dian im­mi­grants, Gokul Nate­san al­ways sensed he was a bit of a bas­ket­ball out­lier.

“I did feel a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. When you’re play­ing bas­ket­ball on a travel team, peo­ple don’t re­ally ex­pect any­thing be­cause they haven’t re­ally seen an In­dian bas­ket­ball player,” said Nate­san. a stand­out se­nior guard for Colorado School of Mines. “So it’d def­i­nitely catch peo­ple by sur­prise, and there were def­i­nitely chal­lenges com­ing up and es­tab­lish­ing my­self as a player when there’s not re­ally any no­table In­di­anAmer­i­can play­ers. But I grew to em­brace it.”

Nate­san dreamed of play­ing Divi­sion I bas­ket­ball, but his lone schol­ar­ship of­fer com­ing out of Cu­per­tino High School in the South San Fran­cisco Bay area was from Mines. Now, four years later, the 6-foot-5 thirdteam All-Amer­i­can has led the No. 11-ranked Oredig­gers into their first NCAA Divi­sion II Elite Eight ap­pear­ance. Mines plays Wed­nes­day at 1:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls, S.D., against No. 2ranked Bel­larmine, from Louisville, Ky.

The Oredig­gers, much like their leader, ap­pear to be out­liers.

The school renowned for its en­gi­neer­ing pro­gram can re­cruit only play­ers who are elite in the class­room — to the tune of a min­i­mum 27 ACT score — but the high aca­demic hur­dles haven’t pre­vented Mines (30-4) from set­ting a pro­gram record for vic­to­ries in the midst of its sev­enth NCAA Tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance in the past eight years.

Nate­san leads a patch­work ros­ter of en­gi­neer­ing whizzes from all across the county, and two from over­seas, on a team that can go 10 deep. The Oredig­gers have an old-school ap­proach to bas­ket­ball, plac­ing heavy em­pha­sis on pass­ing and qual­ity shot se­lec­tion. Mines is fourth among Divi­sion II schools in as­sists, av­er­ag­ing

17.4 per game, and is mak­ing 52.6 per­cent of its field goals.

“If you look at our num­bers, we’re play­ing great team bas­ket­ball. We’re shoot­ing it at a high per­cent­age and we’re re­bound­ing well,” said coach Pryor Orser, in his 16th sea­son at Mines. “This team is play­ing as well as any team I’ve ever coached, and that’s all en­abled by Gokul Nate­san play­ing the best bas­ket­ball of his life.”

Nate­san, who has scored 2,000 ca­reer points, will again take cen­ter stage Wed­nes­day in a mo­ment far re­moved from his early days play­ing bas­ket­ball in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia. It used to be the op­po­si­tion would look at Nate­san and won­der whether the wiry In­dian kid had game.

Now he’s usu­ally the cen­ter of the op­po­nent’s game plan.

“It couldn’t have played out any bet­ter to come into the Elite Eight in my fi­nal year, and look­ing back on how much I’ve de­vel­oped as a player is re­ally re­ward­ing,” Nate­san said. “Those days of peo­ple ques­tion­ing me in club ball are long in the past, and look­ing back on my fresh­man year, it seems like light years away, too, be­cause I can see my growth into a more com­plete player.”

Nate­san leads Mines in scor­ing (18.6) and av­er­aged nine as­sists in three vic­to­ries in the South Cen­tral Tour­na­ment en route to the pro­gram’s first re­gional ti­tle. Nate­san is also the pro­gram’s ca­reer steals leader, and his de­fense cat­alyzes a bal­anced team that fea­tures the likes of ju­nior guard Luke Schroepfer (who leads Divi­sion II with a .500 shoot­ing per­cent­age on 3-point­ers) and se­nior power for­ward Caleb Waits­man (a first team all-RMAC se­lec­tion).

Orser is con­fi­dent the Oredig­gers’ dream ride isn’t about to end quite yet.

“Bel­larmine’s a team that’s sim­i­lar to us. They pass the ball well, and you can tell from the film that they have gym-rat guys who put in the time,” Orser said. “But we like how we match up. We’ll have to pound the ball in­side, and Nate­san has to help us con­trol the tempo as well.”

Colorado School of Mines se­nior Gokul Nate­san fires up a shot dur­ing the Oredig­gers’ win over Arkansas-Fort Smith in the first round of the NCAA Divi­sion II tour­na­ment.

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