“After lots of thoughts and prayers, I’ve decided that it is in my best interest to enter the NBA Draft at this time,” Dekker wrote. “It is difficult to leave Madison and the only state I’ve called home, but I’m excited for the next chapter of my life.
“I truly can’t say thank you enough to my teammates, coaches, training staff and you, the fans, for everything you’ve done. I am so grateful for the opportunities Coach Ryan and UW-Madison have given me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from my experience.”
The 6-foot-9 Dekker averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest this season, shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from beyond the arc and earning second team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and media. Dekker was nagged by an ankle injury for part of the season, but he played his best basketball during the month of March.
In wins over North Carolina and Arizona in the NCAA tournament, Dekker established new careers highs for points in a game. After scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds in the win over the Tar Heels, Dekker followed that up with 27 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field and five rebounds.
DraftExpress.com has Dekker ranked 15th on its list of the Top 100 prospects, and he’s projected to be a first round pick in the NBA Draft.
Dekker will be the fifth departure that head coach Bo Ryan and his staff will have to account for this offseason, with Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan and Traevon Jackson all out of eligibility. That leaves rising juniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes as the players with the most experience who will return to Madison in 2015-16.
Healthy Sam Dekker hopes to be a factor against Duke the second time around
INDIANAPOLIS — Duke already defeated Wisconsin, 80-70, during the 2014-15 season when the two No. 1 seeds matched up in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 4 at the Kohl Center.
But the Badgers didn’t have the benefit of playing with a healthy Sam Dekker the first time around. After spraining his left ankle during practice on Oct. 24, the junior forward was still limited with a lingering ankle issue during the game against the Blue Devils.
Dekker only played 24 minutes against Duke — while never committing a foul in the game — and was limited to five points and four rebounds. He only attempted five field goals and clearly lacked the explosiveness that we’ve seen from him during his tremendous NCAA tournament run.
“I watched part of that game and I just look different, too,” Dekker said of the first Duke game this season. “I was trying to play my game and wasn’t playing well. I looked real slow. Hopefully I can have a better performance and that’s something I want to do.”
The long recovery from the ankle injury also put Dekker in a different place mentally. After the loss to Duke, Dekker pinned the blame on himself, even though a number of his teammates had off-nights as well. A tremendous offseason and preseason from the junior drew rave reviews from scouts and coaches and everything changed when Dekker got hurt. Suddenly, the game that was starting to come so easy to him was slowed down.
“It definitely was a confidence-shaking injury for him,” Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard said. “He was really playing well — phenomenal — during the preseason before we had played any games. He was dominant in practice. Obviously, then he had the injury and he probably came back along a little too soon. He was never fully able to get back in rhythm.
“Sam’s kind of like a track athlete: Everything has to feel good. And I think when he’s feeling good, like he is right now through the last month — and he feels healthier and feels stronger — obviously he’s coming out of the blocks a lot better than November and December.”
Duke also understands that they can’t take Dekker lightly based on how he played in the first matchup. They know he’s a completely different player now. Dekker’s confidence level is very high after career-high scoring totals in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and following that up with some huge plays in the Final Four against Kentucky.
Blue Devil freshman forward Justise Winslow has been watching a fully healthy Dekker tear up the NCAA tournament and he’s anxious for the challenge of playing against him at 100 percent.
“I’ve seen him at full strength and that’s what’s scary about him. It’s his ability to perform, especially on the big stage,” Winslow said. “He was [injured] in our first meeting, so you can’t really take a lot away from that and his performance because he was injured. I’m just looking forward to facing him at 100 percent.”
The personnel for both Duke and Wisconsin has changed since December. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 points for the Blue Devils against the Badgers and he’s no longer with the Duke basketball program. Traevon Jackson had a season-high 25 points for Wisconsin and he’s only playing a few minutes a game now after recovering from a broken foot.
Dekker is the key difference maker the second time around for the Badgers. He’s elevated himself into the NBA lottery conversation and is one of four projected lottery picks, according to Draft Express, playing in the national championship game.
Wisconsin and Dekker are feeling as confident as ever now that he is injury free and elevating his play to a new level.
“Hopefully this time we will be better,” Dekker said. “Justise Winslow is obviously a great defender but it shouldn’t matter who is in front of me; I still expect myself to play well. I just need to play up to my potential in that game and I’m confident I can do it.
Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker showcases quarterback ability on Twitter for Aaron Rodgers
This isn’t the first time Rodgers has been active around college hoops. Last season, the two-time NFL MVP took an interest in Kansas senior Tarik Black, as he thought Black might be able to make it to pro football as a tight end.
Black didn’t make the transition into football though, as he’s playing on the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
It’ll be interesting to see how involved Rodgers gets during the Final Four, as Wisconsin has the huge Final Four rematch with Kentucky.
Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky catch fire as No. 1 Wisconsin beats No. 2 Arizona
LOS ANGELES — With the game and shot clocks dwindling down due to Arizona’s decision to play out the possession despite trailing by five, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker knocked down a dagger of a three-pointer that sealed a second consecutive trip to the Final Four for Bo Ryan’s program. And what occurred on the next stoppage of play summed up the second half, and the season for Wisconsin.
After getting color commentator Reggie Miller’s attention, senior guard Josh Gasser pointed to Dekker and essentially said “stones.” Dekker’s performance was far too big for that designation however, as “boulders” along the lines of the dance Sam Cassell used to do in the NBA being a solid equivalent. Dekker scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half and Frank Kaminsky added 15 of his 29 to lead Wisconsin to the 85-78 win in the West regional final.
“Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Stanley [Johnson] are two physical, good defenders, but we as a team were able to get them into a little bit of foul trouble and that really helped,” Dekker said. “So that opened up the driving lines for myself, and Bronson got me some good looks from the outside and really got my shots going.
“So all in all, it was just a lot of confidence. I was put into a position to hit some shots and they were able to go down for me.”
Kaminsky’s performance came nearly one year to the day after torching the Wildcats for 28 points and 11 rebounds in Anaheim, and while his overall field goal percentage may not have been at the level it’s been throughout the season that was mostly because of what Arizona was able to do defensively in the first half.
While he did score 14 points Kaminsky shot 5-for-13 from the field in the first half, and as a team the Badgers made just under 39 percent of their shots. The second stanza was an entirely different story for Wisconsin as a whole, as they shot 15-for-19 from the field and 10-for-12 from beyond the arc. Kaminsky hit a three on the first possession of the second half, and from there he and his teammates had success knocking down shots.
“I was a little out of control in the first half, throwing up some wild shots, trying to play too fast, trying to make everything. Get a 10-point lead in one shot,” Kaminsky said. “So I just knew I had to calm down in the second half and work through my teammates and work within the offense and try to figure out what we needed to do to push out the lead.
“And I was able to get some stuff inside. I hit a three to start the second half,” the national Player of the Year candidate added. “So it was just one of those things where I was trying to make too many things happen in one possession. So I just had to play it possession by possession.”
Wisconsin averaged nearly 1.62 points per possession in the second half, and considering how well Arizona’s played defensively throughout the year that will go down as one of the best halves of basketball played by any team in the country this season. Wisconsin’s ball and player movement led to a number of looks that while challenged in most instances were of solid quality, and once the Badgers got rolling Arizona found itself chasing the game in spite of their own offensive success.
In Hollis-Jefferson the Wildcats have one of the best defenders in the country, and he was able to do a good job on both Dekker and Kaminsky whenever he had the opportunity to defend them. The problem: Arizona couldn’t clone the sophomore, as whoever wasn’t being defended by Hollis-Jefferson ended up going off in the second half.
And with Arizona having to go small late in an attempt to force turnovers, Hollis-Jefferson wound up defending Kaminsky with Dekker being the beneficiary.
“I thought Rondae was the one guy that really could guard any of them,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “We tried to figure out how he could get two of them to play. But there was only one of him, and the other guy that he wasn’t on went to work.
“And as we moved Rondae around, that guy will go quiet. But as he left one Wisconsin player, the other one would heat up. And Sam Dekker in the second half was spectacular.”
Arizona shot 55 percent from the field and 27-for-29 from the foul line, with Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley scoring 17 points apiece to lead the way. Unfortunately for Arizona there were too many frustrating possessions on the other end of the floor to make that effort count for anything in the end, as Wisconsin put together a second half shooting exhibition for the ages.
Leading the way was Dekker, who battled through a nagging ankle injury earlier in the season and in the last two games has stepped up in a big way for Wisconsin. Saturday evening the junior caught fire in the second half, putting forth a clutch performance that one of the sport’s all-time clutch performers in Reggie Miller had to respect.
“I said, ‘Sam’s got stones like you,'” Gasser said when asked of his exchange with Miller. “He laughed. He agreed with me. He gave me a good head nod.”
Wisconsin All-American candidate returns to practice after missing a few weeks
“It’s not going to be an all-year thing,” Dekker said after practice on Monday. “I think we’re on the right track right now. Getting back on the court for practice has made me the happiest guy in Madison that you can find right now. We’ll leave it at that. I’m pretty excited with what’s going on right now.”
This isn’t Earth-shattering news that Dekker is back to practicing at full speed, but it does indicate that his ankle seems better since last week and he might play in both of Wisconsin’s games this week before a nine-day layoff and a road game at Cal.
Frank Kaminsky finished with 15 points, 10 boards, four steals and three blocks to lead No. 2 Wisconsin to a 49-38 win at arch-rival Marquette on Saturday afternoon.
The Badgers didn’t shoot all that well, but they played their typical brand of tough defense and got big buckets and key hustle plays from the usual suspects: Josh Gasser, Trae Jackson, Nigel Hayes.
The guy that didn’t play well — again — was Sam Dekker. He was questionable heading into Saturday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury, finishing the day by playing just 22 minutes while shooting 1-for-5 from the floor. He had five offensive rebounds and three assists, but he clearly wasn’t himself.
That ankle isn’t healthy, which makes you wonder if it’s smart to keep Dekker in the lineup at this point.
That’s not to say he’s necessarily hurting the team, and Wisconsin may be better with him on the floor at, say, 75 percent than to have him sit out. But the Badgers will not be at their best until Dekker is fully healthy. Wisconsin plays at Milwaukee on Wednesday and then host Nicholls State next Saturday. After that, the Badgers have a nine day layoff before a trip to Berkeley to play Cal on Tuesday, Dec. 22nd.
That’s more than two weeks away. If there was ever a time for Dekker to shut things down and get his ankle right, it’s now.
Because I know this: as good as Kaminsky has been this season, Sam Dekker is Wisconsin’s most talented player.
And if the Badgers are going to be Big Ten and national title contenders, they need that Sam Dekker on the floor.