Dekker Embraces Adjustment

Sam Dekker (Siker/12)

Whether getting his first collegiate start or providing a spark off the bench, Wisconsin freshman forward Sam Dekker is embracing his role with the Badgers as an opportunity to get better. Heading into tonight's tilt against No.2 Indiana as the newly minted conference freshman of the week, it's evident that Dekker is finding his footing.

If you want to ask Sam Dekker how he is adjusting to his role coming off the bench for the Wisconsin men's basketball team, it's best to save your breath.

Not only will the freshman phenom insist that he's fine being a role player after years of being his team's focal point, Dekker will point out that his game – much like Wisconsin through two-plus months of basketball – is still a work in progress.

"I have never run the type of offenses we run here," Dekker said. "I am not going to lie and say that I am 100 percent use to it yet. I just have to learn to get better, and that's going to come with time. I am going to spend four years in the system, so I am going to get used to it."

The signs of comfort are here and there through the first 16 collegiate games of Dekker's career. After averaging 9.8 points in 22.6 minutes during the nonconference season, Dekker averaged a quiet 4.5 points and shot 33.3 percent from the field in victories over Penn State and Nebraska.

Against the Nittany Lions, Dekker shot 1-for-6 from the field (his worst statistical shooting game of the season) and played just 17 minutes, his lowest total since playing 15 minutes against Presbyterian on Nov. 20.

Just when it appeared the Big Ten might take a physically toll on his 6-7 frame, Dekker had 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 24 minutes during a 74-51 victory over then-No. 12 Illinois Saturday. His performance made him the first Wisconsin player to win the conference's freshman of the week honor since the Big Ten debut the award in 2010-11.

"I think he's handling everything great," said associate head coach Greg Gard. "I know everybody asks him about his role and if he is adjusting to his role, but he's a college freshman. Everything he is facing is new. He saw his first road and home game, he saw his first game against Marquette, he'll have his first time through the Big Ten; it's new. He's fitting in, he's learning and he's getting better … He's handling things well."

Dekker will experience another first Tuesday night with his first road matchup against a ranked Big Ten team, as Wisconsin (12-4, 3-0 Big Ten) faces No. 2 Indiana (15-1, 3-0) at Assembly Hall. Off to a 3-0 start in conference for the first time since 2008-09, Dekker has scored in double figures in six of the Badger's last nine games, ranks sixth in the Big Ten, shooting 41.8 percent (23-55) from three-point range and is fifth among all Big Ten freshmen in scoring.

More importantly, Dekker heeded the advice of the seniors when it came to progressing at a consistent rate during his first year, as veterans Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz have seen many unsuspecting younger players falter when not properly prepared.

"If I am going to do something wrong, they are going to let me hear it," said Dekker, with a smile.

That's the main reason Dekker focused on progressing in the strength department from the minute he got to campus in June. Working with strength coach Scott Hettenbach to develop a good base, Dekker approached every workout to get stronger for when he was deep into the Big Ten season.

He's also taken careful steps to improve his defense, especially since the level of competition he's facing now is far greater than what he saw in the lowest division of Wisconsin high school basketball.

"Experience is a great teacher," said Gard. "You like at Mike Bruesewitz or Ryan Evans or Jared Berggren three years ago and how far they have come in terms of what experience has taught them and how it has helped them. I think you'll see that same growth with Sam. He's got instincts you can't teach, but he's learning."

Gard added in the same breath that there's a big difference between the aforementioned players and Dekker: hype. The hype and media attention is new, to a degree, for Dekker. Committing so early in his recruiting process, Dekker didn't have the burden of dealing with hundreds of interview requests and phone calls from media and coaches.

That allowed Dekker to focus solely on basketball, resulting in him leave high school as the state's player of the year, a five-star athlete and the No.4 shooting forward in the country by Scout.com in the 2012 class.

"There are times when I think about it and times when I put too much pressure on myself," said Dekker of the ranking. "I just have to step back from that and realize that I can't listen to anyone and I just have to go out and play basketball. That's the main thing. I just want to win.

"The (ranking) stuff isn't meant to be in our locker room and be on our team. We are a bunch of guys with a common goal, and that's to win a championship."

Just as important to Dekker as winning a championship is acceptance, which he got immediately from a basketball family impressed with his demeanor.

"He's handling it better than you can imagine," said junior guard Josh Gasser. "People always think that if you are good you are an arrogant player and person. He's the total opposite of that. He fits in well with us in the locker room, off the court and on the court. He plays within the offense and does the little things for us. He's exceptionally talented."

And that's why Dekker isn't concerned about adjusting to his new role as many other are lead to believe. To him and his head coach, it's all about what's the next thing he has to get better at to make him that much better.

"If he's still adjusting, then he needs to concentrate a little bit more in practice on his role," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "He's certainly doing a good job for us. But I don't see the word adjustment even being in the vocabulary."

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