Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, March 14, 2016
Tom Izzo referred to him as "the guy who won the game for us."
Matt Costello says he's "the smartest player he's ever played with."
Colby Wollenman wasn't sure how much he was going to play in Sunday's Big Ten championship game, or what his role would be. But he knew when his number was called upon, he would be ready.
With Purdue featuring one of the biggest front lines in the country and MSU's big men in foul trouble in the first half, Wollenman got the call early on. The senior forward from Big Horn, Wyoming delivered in a big way, scoring four points, grabbing five rebounds and playing suffocating defense on Purdue's big man trio of A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.
But arguably the momentum shift of the game came with 5:16 remaining when Wollenman followed up a Costello miss with a thunderous slam. The dunk electrified the Michigan State bench and gave the Spartans a seven point cushion.
"I get limited minutes, not a lot of time to shine, so I didn't think about it too much when it happened," Wollenman said. "I guess the only thing I really thought about was to get back on defense."
You would expect that answer from a player like Wollenman. The senior forward sports a 3.98 GPA and is in the process of interviewing with some of the top medical schools in the country, including Michigan, Penn, Vanderbilt and University of Chicago already. In fact, Izzo joked earlier in the week about needing Wollenman to focus a little more on basketball with him potentially playing a big role for this team down the stretch.
"It puts me in a bit of a different spot than other guys on the team, but at the same time, it has helped me learn a lot about myself and what I want to do after basketball," Wollenman said. "It helps keep me busy and gives me an ultimate goal to achieve."
When Wollenman arrived on campus at MSU in 2011, basketball was an afterthought. He was on academic scholarship, but would play pickup hoops with his friends during his free time. He was convinced to try out for the team during his sophomore season. Not only did Wollenman make the team, but he grew into a valuable role player for Izzo's squad and earned an athletic scholarship.
"He's an unbelievable scout team player for us," Izzo said of Wollenman. "I guess I'm kind of weird, but I love those guys."
This season, Wollenman is back on academic scholarship and enjoying the balance of school and basketball. He plans to make a final decision in late April on where he will attend medical school. Until then, the focus is on basketball, which brings us back to Sunday.
Entering the title game, Wollenman had played a total of four minutes in two games of the Big Ten Tournament. On Sunday, he totaled 12 minutes, the most he has played in a Big Ten game this season. He took turns guarding Swanigan, Haas and Hammons, who combined for 6-of-25 shooting from the field Sunday.
"He's never scared," Denzel Valentine said of Wollenman. "It doesn't matter how big they are or how athletic they are. That's something I always like about Colby."
When the celebration came to a close, the confetti swept from the court and the NCAA Tournament Selection Show already completed, there was Wollenman, sitting by his locker, fielding questions from a slew of media members.
"It's kind of neat," he said of the attention. "I'm lucky to have an experience like this during my senior year."
Great student. Great teammate. Soon to be doctor. Big Ten champion.
It's been quite a storied career for Wollenman, but with the way the Spartans have been playing as of late, this story could have a special fairy tale ending.