NCAA
Graham Hays, espnW.com 696d

Australian Nicole Seekamp right at home in South Dakota

Women's College Basketball, South Dakota Coyotes

Christmas in Australia can mean trips to the beach. The forecast for Dec. 25 in Adelaide, for instance, calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures up to 99 degrees before a veritable cold front passes through and the high tumbles into the 70s for Boxing Day shopping.

Brrr. Or perhaps bah, as in humbug.

An unseasonably warm Dec. 25 in Vermillion, South Dakota, just means forecasted precipitation might fall as freezing rain rather than snow, at least until overnight temperatures turn it to ice.

But good luck finding anyone who will savor a gift this holiday season more than University of South Dakota guard Nicole Seekamp will as she finds herself shivering her way around the Upper Midwest one final time rather than with family amid the warmth in Australia.

Given a season of eligibility she didn't expect, Seekamp won't be home for Christmas. And that's fine.

"I love the fact that I get to meet new people, travel the world, play with other teammates and just keep learning about the game," she said of a sport that brought her to South Dakota. "It's crazy, when I first came to college I thought I was so much better [than I was]. ... It's just awesome to see that growth in myself and see how basketball helps outside of basketball.

"It has been such a big factor in my life that I couldn't imagine life without it."

The holiday season lends itself to stories of second chances seized, from Ebenezer Scrooge to George Bailey. Seekamp lacks the dubious morals from which Scrooge had to be saved. And having doubt in her jump shot is the closest she comes to Bailey's existential crises.

But like them, she caught a glimpse of a future, if not the future. She went through senior day ceremonies for the Coyotes a season ago, including a surprise visit from her dad, who came to see her play in person for the first time. She won the Summit League title but lost to South Dakota State in the tournament championship game, the third meeting of the season between the rivals, and missed the NCAA tournament. She won a postseason game in the WNIT. She even made her final shot in the final second of her final game. And she prepared to leave Vermillion behind.

Then the NCAA, which had ruled she had to sit out her freshman season in the United States to meet eligibility requirements and had subsequently turned down applications to restore that year of eligibility, reversed course and in late April granted the school's final application for a waiver. All Seekamp had to do was sit out the first two games of this season and she could return.

The extra year of eligibility was a gift for college basketball fans, too, even if few outside the Summit League knew it. Few players contribute more on the court while generating less attention than Seekamp, a 5-foot-10 guard from Renmark, Australia, a small town about three hours inland from the major coastal city of Adelaide. As this week began, she ranked 12th in the NCAA in assists per game. Only two of the 11 players ahead of her, Saint Louis' Jackie Kemph and Kentucky's Makayla Epps, averaged more points per game.

"She is a player that can literally do it all," South Dakota teammate Kelly Stewart said. "We say she can play one through four, but if she had to play the five against even like a 6-5 girl, she could totally hold her own. She's a very smart player. ... Whatever we need her to do, she can do it. It's just fun to watch, with different games and different game plans, her adjusting to those different plans and maybe playing a different game than she would against another opponent."

In Seekamp's first game this season, she had 20 points and 10 assists in an overtime loss at Kansas State. In the team's best win, against Drake, she scored 24 points and shouldered the load in shooting the ball. But in a win against Marquette, she had 12 assists. She is a point guard who doesn't always play point, and a scorer who doesn't need to score.

South Dakota coach Amy Williams didn't recruit Seekamp, didn't know much about the rising sophomore who still hadn't played a game for the Coyotes when the coach arrived before the 2012-13 season (Seekamp signed with Ryun Williams, now the head coach at Colorado State and no stranger to international recruiting). But in their first three seasons, South Dakota won 64 games and two years ago reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program's brief tenure in Division I. With Seekamp on the court, the Coyotes are 9-2 this season.

"She's kind of like a coach on the floor," Amy Williams said. "She can finish my sentences before I'm even done saying them. ... She finds ways to lead her teammates into positions where they can score with her passes. She's an easy player to take for granted, in the sense that [you think], 'Oh man, that was a great shot by Caitlin Duffy.' But to be honest with you, there was nobody else on our team that could have got the ball in her hands in a position to make the shot. She does so much of that, little things that you take for granted that I know I'm going to desperately miss."

Williams wasn't even sure Seekamp, who was already home in Australia when the coaching change was completed in June 2012, would come back to the United States for her sophomore year. After a freshman year in which she could only sit and watch, it would require a long leap of faith to cross the Pacific Ocean again for a coach she knew nothing about. What Williams didn't know at the time was Seekamp long ago made peace with following basketball wherever it led.

After years of commuting to Adelaide on weekends to practice and play with a team there, she eventually moved away from home as a teenager to live with relatives in the larger city. That led to an opportunity to train at the Australian Institute of Sport, even farther from home and family. Encouraged by her dad and her brother, who had an opportunity to come to the United States to play basketball but passed it up in part because of the distance, Vermillion was just a longer trip.

Well, there was the snow, a wholly new experience.

"I don't mind the snow, actually," Seekamp said. "It's more just the cold and the wind here are unbelievable. I remember some days I would have to walk backwards so my face wouldn't freeze."

The future will eventually arrive. It has a knack for it. When this season ends, it will be time to move on, Seekamp hopes, to an opportunity in the WNBA and eventually the Australian national team, but professional basketball of some sort regardless. An all-conference academic honoree, she will do so with a degree in psychology. She would like to do so after another NCAA tournament appearance in a year in which her adopted state hosts a regional for the first time.

Still, as much as what she has accomplished and hopes to accomplish, it's the satisfaction she finds in every bit of the present that explains why she didn't hesitate when Williams and administrators asked if she would even want to come back for a fifth year.

"It has been contagious since she's been here, and that sets the tone for our culture," Williams said. "And I'm so grateful because we have four freshmen in our program, and really seven new players that have never played a game in a Coyote uniform before, and for them to have the luxury to learn some of those things from her for a year is going to make us better next year."

To make the most of their do-overs, Scrooge and Bailey first needed guides to show them all that they overlooked or took for granted. Seekamp didn't need any help. She just needed the do-over. In what others might overlook in a small town and small university in South Dakota, she sees the experience of a lifetime.

"It's hard to find one thing that is kind of representative," Seekamp said of an image she will remember from her experience. "Every little part has some sort of memory that I feel like I'll remember forever."

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