Sam Dekker Will Be a Star in the Big Ten But Not Until Next SeasonPosted by Deepak Jayanti on January 31st, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
Most top recruits out of high school don’t have Wisconsin on their short list when it is time for them to commit to a college hoops program. Badgers head coach Bo Ryan rarely pursues top-25 players from the prep ranks unless they fit well with his offensive philosophy. Swinging the ball around, using at least 25 to 30 seconds of the shot clock, and playing in an offense which is one of the slowest in the country (61 possessions per game) is not very appealing to the top recruits who don’t want to be held back. But Badger freshman Sam Dekker has been an exception to this trend. Highly touted as a senior (#13 by Rivals), he chose to head to Madison to play for Ryan. Dekker’s performance so far this season has been impressive at times but he hasn’t been seen consistent playing time yet — the limited minutes can be attributed to Ryan’s offensive system and his reliance on the upperclassmen who can play “Badger basketball.”
The 6’7″ wing has averaged about 22 minutes per game this season, while scoring an efficient 9.0 PPG along while pulling down 3.4 RPG. His minutes have been inconsistent because he is fourth on the depth chart of forwards this year behind Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz. All three seniors have been a significant part of Ryan’s teams over the last two years and understand the principles of his offense very well. They are very disciplined with their shot selection due to their maturity and are also quite physical on the defensive end of the floor. Without Josh Gasser in the lineup this year, the Badgers don’t have as many offensive options so they rely more than ever on using the shot clock efficiently and playing great team defense. Dekker, like most freshmen, is prone to turning the ball over at times or missing defensive assignments, which means more to Ryan’s teams because of fewer possessions. As a result, Ryan has only used the freshman off the bench but always seems to revert to his seniors during crunch time unless Dekker has played a perfect game. For example, during the recent 70-66 loss to Iowa, Dekker scored 13 points but was pulled during the second half because he had turned the ball over five times. During conference play (except against Illinois) the Badgers haven’t run away with any of their games and most of their wins have been within 10 points which pushes Dekker back to the bench because Ryan needs Breusewitz to defend the best wing during the final minutes. Dekker may be Ryan’s best pure scoring option but the combination of three senior forwards who exemplify the physical nature of the Badger’s defensive philosophy seems to be a better plan of attack for him so far this season.
Despite inconsistent playing time, Dekker has still found several ways to contribute offensively. He can score from anywhere on the floor (42% 3FG) and has made a handful of jaw-dropping plays with his ability put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket for easy dunks. After losing two straight games to Iowa and Michigan State, the Badgers found themselves down 19-11 to Minnesota with eight minutes to go in the first half when Dekker gave his team a much needed offensive spark off the bench. Over a five-minute stretch, he brought them back with a timely three-pointer and transition opportunities. For a wing, he has excellent hands and is not afraid to dribble in traffic which adds to his arsenal of offensive moves. He hasn’t shown any fear of taking a shot once he enters the game which speaks volumes about his confidence as well. It is clear that a couple of bad shots early in the shot clock may cut into his minutes because Ryan will pull him out, but that hasn’t made Dekker think twice about firing it up. Such an attitude indicates that he is playing to win and not just looking for ways to extend his minutes by being conservative with his shot selection. When he comes into the game, his goals are very clear: hustle on both ends of the floor, and find ways to put the ball into the basket. If you watch him in Wisconsin’s half-court sets, he is constantly moving from one side to the other trying to find an opening to either drive to the basket or shoot a three. You might catch him waving his arms for a couple of seconds asking for the ball but if he doesn’t get it, he just puts his head down and moves to another spot on the floor. He has the offensive talent in spades and once he improves his understanding of defensive principles in the Ryan system, he can use his length to defend bigger guys and athletic wings. The Gophers’ athletic Rodney Williams was frustrated throughout the game by Dekker’s length and shot 0-of-6 from the field as a result.
Overall, Dekker has shown enough talent this season to indicate that he will become an eventual star in the Big Ten. Next year, he will be a primary scoring option in the frontcourt but until then he will have to find ways to provide energy off the bench. Based on his body language, it is clear that he understands his specific role on this team and tries to maximize his contributions during his playing time. He has taken a back seat to Michigan’s Nik Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III or Michigan State’s Gary Harris this season as a freshman, but it is only a matter of time before he will be considered one of the best players in the Big Ten.