Redshirt junior Duje Dukan steps up for UW
MADISON—Wisconsin’s five-game, eight-day exhibition tour through Canada was expected to be a critical first step in the development of UW’s large freshman class.
Who knew redshirt junior Duje Dukan would gain as much as, if not more than, the first-year players?
“You can’t overlook the fact he was able to get some experience there and work through a few hurdles,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “And it definitely has put him ahead of where maybe everybody thought he was going to be except the staff.”
One game is a small sample size, as Gard noted several times. However, based on his play in the Badgers’ 86-75 victory over St. John’s, Dukan’s role this season will be expanded.
The next test comes at 8 p.m. today when UW (1-0), No. 19 in the USA Today poll and No. 20 in The Associated Press poll, prepares to host Florida (1-0), No. 11 according to AP.
“You’ve just got to keep at it, keep working hard and hope for the best,” said Dukan, who averaged 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds on the Canadian tour. “I knew if there was going to be a push, it had to be now.”
Dukan, who redshirted last season after contracting mono, entered the opener against St. John’s with a total of 56 minutes played in 21 games at UW. He had a combined 11 points and 12 rebounds in those games. His longest stint on the court was 11 minutes, two seasons ago against Kennesaw State.
Against St. John’s, Dukan contributed 15 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. He did most of his damage in the second half, when the outcome hadn’t been decided, by contributing 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
Dukan scored inside, hit 2 of 3 three-pointers and added 5 of 6 free-throw attempts. He also competed hard on the defensive end.
“It is just one game,” Dukan said, “but it is nice to be able to perform in a game where I got meaningful minutes against a good team.”
If not for the outstanding all-around performance of redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser, who missed last because of a knee injury, Dukan’s play would have been the No. 1 story of the opener.
“The first thing is you feel great for Duje because he has battled through a lot,” Gard said. “Not playing over the last three years, knowing him, has bugged him.
“But he either physically wasn’t ready or last year as he was maybe on the cusp of trying to make a splash and can’t afford to have any off days, he comes down with mono.
“He has had to persevere through a lot.”
Dukan, from Deerfield (Ill.) High School, carried about 190 pounds on his 6-foot-9 frame as a freshman.
“My freshman year it was tough for me to keep up with guys like Jon (Leuer),” Dukan said. “He was just a lot stronger than me.”
Dukan’s weight today: 220 pounds.
“Now that I’ve added weight, I think I can play inside with bigger guys, but I can also be out on the perimeter and chase guys off screens,” he said. “I think it makes me more versatile and offensively I can post up or step outside and handle the ball.”
Dukan showed in Canada and during preseason practice he was stronger and more confident in his game, but the improved play came through in flashes.
When speaking publicly, UW coach Bo Ryan generally doesn’t provide detailed progress reports on his players. That’s not his style.
Instead, Ryan keeps pushing the players and hopes they work diligently to improve.
“I’ve never seen him lose confidence in a kid,” Gard said. “He’s got a great knack of trying to view down the road for a kid of what he can be. He doesn’t give up on kids.
“It is a small sample size for Duje, so there’s not going to be a party with any balloons. It is a good step.”