College women's basketball: An experienced Dru Gylten has been a ‘great fit’ for Jackrabbits

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BROOKINGS – On Friday, Dru Gylten will play for South Dakota State in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, which is something that not many would have thought would be the case when she started her college career six years ago.

Gylten took a roundabout way to put on the yellow and blue and represent her home state on the national stage. The Rapid City native spent five seasons at Utah before entering the transfer portal and decided to come to SDSU for her sixth and final season.

Gylten was a phenomenal player in high school at St. Thomas More as she led the Cavaliers to four-straight state championships and was a McDonald’s All-American in 2017. SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said the Jacks didn’t even really try to recruit Gylten back then because she was set on playing for a major conference program.

“We certainly were aware of Dru in high school and she knew about us, but I know her aspirations at that point were to go and play at a power five school, so I wouldn’t say there was a ton of recruiting that took place then,” Johnston said. “… As she was at Utah, I followed her career then. Not so much thinking, hey this could work out down the road, I don’t think that ever crossed our minds. But then when it was made clear that she was going to move on and enter the transfer portal and we began talking to her, you could tell that this was going to be a great fit.”

A great fit it was indeed. SDSU was in need of a point guard as the Jacks were going to be without sophomore Paige Meyer for the first half of the season as she was recovering from a knee injury. SDSU knew Gylten would be able to help them as she dished out 553 assists in her career at Utah, which was fourth most in program history and she led the Pac-12 in assists in 2021-22 with 152.

Gylten said it took a little bit of time for her teammates to get used to her passing, which sometimes can catch teammates off guard, but it’s worked out well as she is averaging 4.7 points and 3.4 assists per game this season.

“Coming in during the summer, I had known a lot of the girls, but they maybe hadn’t been able to see me play or knew how I play, so it was kind of just about getting to know them and their styles. Obviously with passing, sometimes I’m not looking at people, so that kind of took a while to finalize. … It took a little while, but now I think everything is just flowing so well,” Gylten said.

SDSU fifth-year senior forward Paiton Burckhard said that Gylten has improved SDSU’s offense because she brings the best out of everyone and is one of the smarter players she’s ever played with.

“Dru’s basketball IQ is just really high. She sees the floor really well and makes awesome passes, most of the time before you even know she’s looking at you, or she’s not looking at you and all of the sudden you have the ball in your hands. So, she just brings a lot to the table. … Her high basketball IQ ultimately lifts everybody up and makes everyone better around her,” Burckhard said.

Passing has always been a part of Gylten’s game. Out of the eight players on SDSU that average more than 15 minutes per game Gylten has the lowest shot attempts this season with just 107. But she’s not a bad shooter as she shoots 41.1% from the field and 39.1% from three. Gylten said she just finds a lot of joy in making a nice pass and setting her teammates up to score.

“I think starting at a young age, my dad was always my coach and I had been selfish and scoring a lot, and I give credit to him because he made me into the passer I am. Yeah, I can score, but I just love passing so much. It just gives me the greatest joy to create for my teammates. I’ll shoot when I’m open, but I’ll always be a pass first point guard,” Gylten said.

One teammate that was especially excited to play with Gylten this season was fellow Rapid City native Haleigh Timmer. Timmer was in eighth grade when Gylten was in her senior season at St. Thomas More, but the players families are close and Timmer was excited to finally get to play with Gylten full time.

“I’ve known Dru for a long time. … Our families are super close. Finding out she was coming to SDSU was really exciting to me because I didn’t really get to play with her a lot in high school, so this was the time for us to play together,” Timmer said.

Gylten will be playing in her 136th game in her college career on Friday when the Jacks play USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg, Virginia. All of that experience has helped SDSU this season and Timmer said when things get tough, everyone looks to Gylten to see what she what they should do or what she has to say.

“She just brings a calmness to the court. Even when things are not going so well, everyone looks to her and gravitates to her, and she’s just able to give a calmness and composure that allows us to get things going in the right direction,” Timmer said.

Johnston said that calmness and composure doesn’t affect Gylten’s competitiveness, but her competitiveness also doesn’t allow her to not have a good time, whether it’s on or off the court.

“Dru has been [a calming presence] for us all year long. She has a great ability to have focus and concentration and determination, but she’s also incredibly lighthearted about it. She’s a tremendous competitor, but she makes it fun, and I think that resonates with everybody too because she has a great sense of humor about her,” Johnston said.

This will be the second time in Gylten’s career that she will be playing in the NCAA Tournament as Utah made it last season. When it comes to closing out a long career at the school that has represented the state of South Dakota in women’s college basketball for over a decade, Gylten is extremely happy that she made that decision.

“I think my decision to come to South Dakota State, there’s been no regrets at all. It’s been such an amazing season here. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms within Jackrabbit Nation and the culture here is so much different than it is at other places. So, just being able to say that I’m a part of that [has been great]. Playing for any college basketball team, you want to make it to March Madness, so being able to make it a second year in-a-row is such a blessing and it’s just been so awesome,” Gylten said.