Feb. 22, 2013
By MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- One week, he’s Illinois’ Brandon Paul and he’s racing around ball screens and shooting in transition. The next week, he’s Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas and he’s stretching the defense with his range and launching from the wing and corner. This is college basketball’s equivalent of identity theft.
As a Wisconsin redshirt, Duje Dukan has been relegated to developing his game during practices on the scout team where he has suppressed his own identity as a player to simulate others – like Paul and Thomas – for the starters and top reserves in the rotation. This is an invaluable service.
“I took the redshirt this season because I thought I could develop my strength and my game,” said Dukan, a 6-8, 210-pound junior from Deerfield, Ill. “That’s the way I look at it every day with the scouts. I have to do it with the mindset of getting better.”
Dukan felt like he got better late last season. As a result of his work in practice, he came off the bench to play in first half of Wisconsin’s 73-49 win over Montana in the NCAA tournament. Given that he had appeared in only two of the previous 19 games in mop-duty only, it was a breakthrough.
“I definitely felt a lot better,” he said, “finding myself in that situation where I did get a little bit of playing time in the tournament when I really wasn’t expecting it with the way the season went. I felt a lot more positive going into the summer and going into this season.”
| "That’s the way I look at it every day with the scouts. I have to do it with the mindset of getting better."
Aside from the returning seniors on the frontline – Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren – and the emergence of Frank Kaminsky who played in 35 games as a freshman, the Badgers were fluid on the wing with the departure of Jarrod Uthoff and the arrival of Sam Dekker.
“I thought there was an opportunity regardless of who we were bringing in or keeping,” said Dukan. “I just thought Coach (Bo Ryan) was acknowledging that I was playing well. I just had to keep working hard and hopefully put myself in a good position to get more minutes.”
There were enough positive signs during the off-season to encourage Dukan, who had played in just 21 games (51 minutes) his first two years at Wisconsin. “I thought the summer was going really well,” he said. “I felt like I was in really good shape and getting stronger. I liked where my game was.”
That was his thinking in August when he left for Croatia. Dukan was born in Split, the second-largest city in the country. Dukan and his family return every summer to the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea where Dukan will stay in basketball shape by practicing with the local pro team.
The day before Dukan was scheduled to fly back to the States, he came down with symptoms that indicated that he may have mono. It was confirmed when he got home. “There was nothing really I could do at the time except focus on getting over it, and getting better,” he said.
There was some uncertainty on his recovery time, especially after he lost nearly 15 pounds. “I didn’t know how long it would take me to get my weight back or how long it would take me to get back in shape,” he said. “I took two to three weeks to see how things went and I realized that it was going to take me a lot longer than expected and I didn’t want to spend half the season playing catch-up.”
So he elected to redshirt, and he has no regrets, particularly with his role-playing in practice. “With the scout team, there’s a lot more freedom with the different roles that we get to encompass,” he said, “whether we’re playing a 4-man in the post or playing as a 3-man on the wing. You get to work on your game and going against the first team, you know that you’re going to get great reps.”
Just as importantly, he has been trying to get stronger. “That’s one thing that did sneak up on me,” he said of the physical nature of play in the Big Ten. “It was talked about (before he got here) but I really didn’t get a feel for it until I experienced it in practices… I don’t think I’m there yet.”
UW associate head coach Greg Gard has begun to see some changes in Dukan. “Physically, he looks better; I think the weight room is beginning to pay off,” he said. “When you get stronger, you have more confidence and you have the tendency to play more aggressively and more physically.”
“He’s a great kid,” Gard went on, “and his knowledge of the game is very good. But there’s a physical level that you have to play at, and he’s striving to get there where he can swing as big of a hammer as everyone else is swinging. Some guys are late bloomers and he may be one of those guys.”
Redshirting has given Dukan a different perspective on game days. “Knowing that I’m not going to have the opportunity to go in,” he said, “I can just focus on watching the game and seeing what the guys are doing. You’re kind of interpreting the game and watching with an open mind.”
As it is, Dukan is accustomed to taking the game home with him. On campus, he’s living with teammates: Ben Brust, the UW’s second-leading scorer; and Josh Gasser, who’s rehabbing from ACL surgery. Meanwhile, his dad, Ivica Dukan, is the Director of International Scouting for the Chicago Bulls.
“Not playing much has been frustrating, but talking to him (Ivica) and hearing his input has always been good,” said Duje Dukan (DOO-yay DOOK-in). “He just says, ‘Stay patient and keep working on your game. Your time will come and when it does, make sure you take advantage of it.’”
Dukan has been with the Bulls since the early ’90s. He played professionally in England, Switzerland, France and Yugoslavia. A family friend is Toni Kukoc, one of the first Europeans to have success in the NBA. He played 13 years with the Bulls, 76ers, Hawks and Bucks. Kukoc is also from Split.
“Any of the basketball minds that I’ve been around, I’ve talked to,” said 21-year-old Duje Dukan, an international studies major at Wisconsin. “Any input that I can get, I’ll take, especially from someone like Toni who played for so long in the NBA and had such a successful career.”
When the redshirt finally comes off, does he believe that he can be a contributor in the rotation with the Badgers next season? “Absolutely,” Dukan said. “It’s just a matter now of waiting until next October to start proving that. Whatever we need, I’d be willing to play it.”