May 4, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- The 2013 guest list read like a Who’s Who of college basketball wing players. And that was by design, since only the very select were invited to take part in the Kevin Durant Skills Academy, a three-day, position-specific instructional and developmental camp in Washington, D.C.
Duke’s precocious 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman Jabari Parker was there, along with Mississippi’s petulant senior, Marshall Henderson, who was the most undersized “wing” at 6-2. Wichita State’s 6-7 Cleanthony Early and Connecticut’s 6-8 Deandre Daniels were more prototypical wings.
Both would go on to memorable seasons at their respective schools. Early played on the first team to go undefeated during the regular season since 2004 (St. Joseph’s), while Daniels was a key component on a team that won the national championship, the program’s fourth title since 1999.
Alex Poythress, who was on the Kentucky team that lost to UConn in the finals, was at the Durant camp last summer, along with an impressive Big Ten quartet of Ohio State’s La Quinton Ross and Sam Thompson, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Michigan State’s Gary Harris.
Given this roll call, you can better understand why Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker was so excited to be among those elite college wing players to be invited to the 2014 Durant Skills Academy in late June. The official roster has yet to be released, but Michigan’s Caris LeVert is known to be on it, too.
Although Dekker was uncertain about the format, he surmised, “There’s going to be a lot of skill work as they’re trying to shape you into a good scorer and offensive threat.” Ever conscious that Bo Ryan might be within earshot, he added, “They’ll shape you defensively, too.”
Durant, an NBA superstar with the Oklahoma City Thunder, has been known to take a hands-on approach to the instruction. Last year, he went one-on-one with a number of campers, including Parker, during drills and scrimmages. There will be a plethora of pro scouts, players and coaches in attendance.
“Any way I can try to improve myself as an individual player to help this (Wisconsin) program, I have to take advantage of it,” said Dekker, who will be going into his junior year with the Badgers. “So I was excited to get the invite and I look at it as an honor.”
As he does at the end of every spring semester Dekker will return to Sheboygan and get back in the gym. There, he will train under the guidance of his father, who was his head coach at Lutheran High School. Todd Dekker has since retired from coaching but he’s still working on an individual basis with local youngsters.
“He knows my game better than I do,” Sam Dekker said. “He knows what I have to get better at and what I have to work on. It’s cool when your dad has a coaching background and he can see the game deeper than you just being his kid. I’m sure he’ll have things waiting for me when I get home.”
Last summer, Dekker went to school on what he did as a Wisconsin freshman when he was utilized as the first player off the bench with the exception of three starts early in the season. Dekker averaged 22 minutes, 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten.
|“There’s going to be a lot of skill work as they’re trying to shape you into a good scorer and offensive threat,” Dekker said of the Durant Skills Academy. “They’ll shape you defensively, too.”
“After my freshman year, I knew what I had to do at the Big Ten level to get better,” he said. “I had to get stronger and I had to get quicker. I had to be in tune with everything; my jump shot, my attacking ability. Having another year of knowledge on top of that, I can grow and get even better.”
After pausing briefly, he emphasized, “I want to get a lot better. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed in myself this past season. But I can do a lot more. As a competitor, I think I underachieved on every level, offensively and defensively -- yeah, I think I did -- that’s just me being hard on myself.”
As a sophomore, Dekker was one of five players to start all 38 games for the Badgers. He averaged 30 minutes, 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Whereas he shot .478 from the field and .391 from beyond the 3-point arc as a freshman, he dropped to .469 and .326, respectively, this past season.
“I’m a much better shooter than I shot and I’m a better attacker,” insisted Dekker, who nearly doubled his free throw attempts from one season to the next by 94-of-137 (.686) this year. He shot .690 from the stripe (49-of-71) as a freshman. “You always want to go up and, like I said, I feel like I’m a better shooter.
“I have to play with more confidence,” he went on. “There were times when I got into a little bit of lulls. That stuff happens over the course of a season; there are highs and lows. And, overall, it was a successful campaign. But I can get better.”
Dekker played one of his most efficient games against Kentucky in the national semifinal. In 25 minutes, he scored 15 points. He was 3-of-4 from the field, 1-of-2 from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. He also had four rebounds, one block, one steal, one assist and zero turnovers.
“I thought I was pretty relaxed and pretty confident in my abilities (against the Wildcats),” he said. “I obviously played pretty well. But I thought I could have done much more down the stretch. I can be so passive at times. Sometimes that hurt us and I don’t like hurting our team.”
|“Take the contact, finish, score and get to the line if you don’t finish,” Dekker said. “If I can improve on all of those aspects, it’s going to be make me a better player and it’s going to make our team better.”
Was Dekker sure that he wanted to use the word “passive” to describe those lulls?
“I think it is the word,” he said. “I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t know what causes that. But, in my heart, I know I can play better. I know I have a lot of skill but there’s more than I can do. I was disappointed in myself at times. But you can’t show that and you can’t dwell on those things.”
Was Dekker sure that he wanted to use the word “disappointed” to describe his frustration? In a sense, he answered that question with a broader statement on his play. “I know I can do things for this team,” he said earnestly, “and I know I can bring more to the table than I brought in some games.”
For one thing, he knows that he can get bigger. When he arrived on campus as a freshman, he weighed slightly less than 200 pounds. His training had been limited that summer because of an injury even though he made the U.S. Under-18 team that competed in Brazil for the FIBA Americas Championship.
Dekker finished his sophomore season at around 220. “I’m hoping to gain weight, that’s what I’m working on,” he said. What’s he shooting for? Five more pounds? “I can add even more, I think. I don’t have the body that puts on weight as well as other people. But with work, you can do it.’
With additional weight and strength, he said, “I’ll be able to bang a little more inside.”
It’s no secret that NBA scouts want to see if Dekker can finish through contact. He’s no different, really, than many young players who are still developing physically and have yet to reach that maturity with their game to where they’re taking the ball to the rim and scoring consistently.
“It’s something I know I can do,” said Dekker, who excels in the open floor. “Take the contact, finish, score and get to the line if you don’t finish. If I can improve on all of those aspects, it’s going to be make me a better player and it’s going to make our team better.”
Dekker qualified his take with, “Down the line, I’m going to have to be doing that.”
Many have speculated on his NBA future. He has not always been among them. In fact, he said that he was unaware of the process by which a college undergraduate can apply to an advisory board for a draft evaluation without actually declaring for the draft; something teammate Frank Kaminsky did.
“If I would have known, I might have (applied), but I didn’t think about it,” Dekker said.
It has been kind of a whirlwind for everyone involved with the UW basketball program since the Badgers made their Final Four run. The team will be honored at Friday night’s baseball game between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Dekker is a huge Brewers fan.
Last week, it was announced that Wisconsin has drawn Duke for a home game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a matchup that could very well pit a couple of top-five teams in the country. The Badgers, who return four starters, have been generating a lot of attention lately from the national pundits.
“It has been exciting, it has been fun,” Dekker said. “People are already talking about next year. You don’t really want to say anything (about that yet) because we’re trying to relax and get our minds away from it and just focus on having a good summer.
“But the reception that we’ve gotten from our fans has been incredible and our expectations are going to be at an all-time high next year. We always put those expectations on ourselves, so it’s not going to be anything really new to us.
“But we’ll take ‘em, we’ll take the expectations,” Dekker said without flinching, “because you want to be there at the beginning and, obviously, at the end of the season. Expectations aren’t a bad thing; it’s another opportunity to prove yourself.”
That opportunity begins this summer with Durant looking on.