Badgers' Sam Dekker embraces high expectations

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, March 27, 2014

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Sam Dekker embraced the challenges he faced in his second season at Wisconsin.

With the departure of seniors Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, Dekker understood he would have to help lead a younger UW team by word and deed.

Dekker has enjoyed the ride that has led No. 2-seeded UW (28-7) to a spot in the West Regional semifinals against No. 6-seeded Baylor (26-11) at 6:47 p.m. today at the Honda Center.

Dekker, who isn’t afraid to speak from the heart, acknowledges there have been times this season when he has fallen short of his expectations. He knows his coaches and teammates expect more, too.

“And sometimes if you don’t feel like you’re doing it up to par you put a lot of pressure on yourself,” he said, “and you feel like your team needs you to pick it up.

“As a leader you want to do well for your teammates and for this program. There’s times I feel like I’ve done that well and then there’s times I go home at night and I’m upset with myself.

“But you’ve got to wake up and be ready to perform the next day. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I love the position I’m in.”

Expectations for Dekker, at least among UW fans, have been off the charts since he came to Madison after leading Sheboygan Lutheran to a state title with a remarkable performance in his final high school game.

Dekker’s name has been all over mock NBA draft boards even though his overall game remains in the developmental stages.

“I think he is still scratching the surface,” UW assistant Gary Close said. “He wants to be a great player and he is willing to put the time in.

“It is a learning process. It’s not something that happens overnight.”

As a key reserve last season, Dekker averaged 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. His shooting numbers were solid, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and 47.8 percent overall, though he acknowledged his mark of 69 percent from the free-throw line needed to improve.

Through 35 games this season, Dekker is averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. His shooting numbers are all down—32.2 percent from 3-point range and 46.9 percent overall and to 67.7 percent from the line.

Dekker still needs to be stronger finishing at the rim and improve both his inside and midrange games.

“Some of it is strength, balance and getting comfortable,” Close said when asked about Dekker becoming a better post player. “A lot of times in the post, guys actually rush it rather than slowing down and making a good move.”

When Dekker is active early, on both ends of the court, he usually plays well and UW is a better team for it. For example, half of Dekker’s 14 rebounds in two NCAA Tournament games have been on offense.

“It bodes well for what he is going to do,” UW assistant Lamont Paris said of the early activity level. “That is just a good sign for us.”

Perhaps the area which remains Dekker’s Achilles’ heel is defense.

“On ball, off the ball help…recognizing who you’re guarding and whether you can slough off to help a teammate,” Paris said. “It’s paying attention to detail in the scouting report.”

This isn’t news to Dekker.

“I remind myself,” he said with a grin. “Outside sources remind me. My family, my teammates, coaches.

“I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t told me.”

Paris looks at Dekker’s 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame and sees the foundation of an above-average defender.

“With his length and agility and ability to change directions, he should be,” Paris said. “At one point in his career when you say his name, you should be able to think: ‘That guy is a good defender.’”

Dekker isn’t near that point.

“That’s not the first thing that comes to your mind,” Paris said.

By contrast, it is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the game of teammate Josh Gasser. When the UW staff devises a game plan, Gasser is assigned the opponent’s best perimeter scorer.

“It’s really all mental,” Gasser said. “The focus needs to be there. He’s got all the physical tools…. It’s all about the will and the focus to get it done.

“He has shown spurts where he can be a great defender. He has done some great things for us. It is a matter of doing it possession in and possession out.”

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