Broken hand and all, Jalen Tate wouldn't change much about the first two years of his college basketball career.

Tate, a 2016 Pickerington High School Central graduate, has played a large part in the success Northern Kentucky has enjoyed in its first two seasons in Division I. Not only has he started 39 of the 40 games in which he has played, but his tenacity and range were integral to the Norse's nationally ranked defense and earned him spots on the Horizon League's all-freshman and all-defensive teams last year as NKU won the conference championship, one year after making its first NCAA tournament appearance.

"To be able to win two championships in two years, that's meant a lot to me to be a part of that," Tate said. "In high school when I was looking where to play in college, I could tell this was a program that was on the way up. They were headed in a good direction and that's continued."

Tate started 31 of 32 games last season, averaging 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists while racking up 44 steals and 19 blocks. He was named the team's Rookie of the Year.

"When he was in high school, I saw a young man who valued winning more than individual stats and who displayed the same kind of versatility and selflessness he brings us now," Norse coach John Brannen said. "He makes great decisions. His athleticism on and off the ball is tremendous. He had about a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play this year. His consistency might be the thing that's always stood out the most to me."

As a senior at Central, Tate averaged 17.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.1 steals and made first-team all-league and second-team all-district. He finished with 1,139 career points.

Tate started the first eight games of his freshman year with the Norse, scoring 37 points and recording 16 rebounds and seven steals before breaking the metacarpal bone in his left hand against Norfolk State.

"I was going up for a shot and I fell and came down on my left hand," recalled Tate, who was awarded a medical redshirt. "It was a clean break. I got 10 pins and a plate put in my left hand. I was supposed to be out six to eight weeks but it was probably closer to eight to 10.

"I'm still a little nervous about falling on it again. I just worked hard to get back in shape as far as finishing and dribbling. The hardest thing was getting back to 100 percent in terms of where I needed to be with my speed and physicality for the college game."

Northern Kentucky went 24-10 in 2016-17, winning the conference tournament to earn an automatic NCAA berth in its first full season in Division I. The Norse lost 79-70 to Kentucky in the first round.

Last season, the Norse went 22-10 overall and 15-3 in the Horizon League to win the conference championship by a game ahead of Wright State, but were upset by Cleveland State in a conference tournament quarterfinal. Northern Kentucky lost to Louisville 66-58 in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

The Norse's defense was ranked 25th nationally.

That success has helped the Norse beef up its schedule, starting this season. Non-conference opponents include Maryland-Baltimore County, which in March became the first No. 16 seed to win an NCAA tournament game, and Cincinnati, with which the Norse will begin a four-game home-and-home series.

It was a strong athletic year for Tate and his family.

Older brother Jae'Sean Tate capped an Ohio State career in which he scored 1,512 points, 19th in program history, and was selected to the Milwaukee Bucks' NBA Summer League team but did not play because of a broken finger on his right hand.

Younger sisters Jada and Jocelyn Tate -- a junior and freshman, respectively -- were on Central's Division I state championship girls basketball team.

Tate will get another chance to be a big brother this coming season when former Central teammate Adrian Nelson joins the Norse. Nelson originally was a Detroit Mercy recruit but reopened his recruiting when coach Bacari Alexander was fired in March, and committed to NKU less than a month later.

Nelson averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds last season to help the Tigers to their second consecutive Division I state tournament.

"I'm super excited about having him down here. I've seen him working hard, learning the system and grinding," Tate said. "We've known each other since kindergarten or first grade. He helps keep me going. I'm excited to play with him. Hopefully (next) season is going to be a lot of fun. I just want to be in the best position for us to keep winning."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave