Nothing but net with Nick

UW-Madison sophomore guard Sam Dekker needs to be more assertive on offense

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

After what was an embarrassing loss last week at home to Northwestern, Wisconsin’s supposed savior Sam Dekker opened his mouth about how soft his team had been playing and how he was frustrated with everything and everyone.

Two days later, it was Dekker who was nearly non-existent in a loss at home to Ohio State, scoring only four points and grabbing only four boards in a season-low 19 minutes on the floor.

The Sheboygan Sensation is a 6-foot-8 guard who could post any player in the Big Ten. Yet he insists on sitting out on the perimeter in hopes of getting a kick out pass from Traevon Jackson, a point guard who doesn’t seem to care for passing the basketball much.

Sammy D is shooting an abysmal 31.4 percent from deep, yet he still leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Hmm, what does this tell me? Well, when he is actually getting to the basket, he’s scoring. But he’s not doing that, and even in a road win Tuesday at Illinois, seven of his nine shots were from deep. I realize he made four of them, but at the percentage he shoots, I wouldn’t take those odds against tournament teams.

‘So what’s the solution, Bo Ryan?’ asks every Wisconsin fan ever. If I were the wily old coach, who I got to know when he was still coaching at UW-Platteville as he and my dad worked together in the Pioneer athletic department, I’d consider bringing Dekker off the bench.

When he’s starting the games on the pine, he should watch, study and emulate everything his freshman teammate Nigel Hayes does. The 6-foot-7 Hayes is as athletic as Dekker, but knows how to use his athleticism.

Hayes has attempted exactly zero 3-point attempts this year. Zero. Yet in Big Ten play, Hayes has been averaging close to 19 points-per-40 minutes played. In several games, he has been the go-to guy even though he isn’t in the starting lineup.

What makes Hayes so great offensively is what should make Dekker great. Hayes slashes to the rim through Ryan’s systematic swing offense, he creates his own shot and hits his mid-range game by using the pivot foot effectively. He also does something Dekker never does, and that’s crashing the offensive board for put backs.

When Dekker is on the floor, he plays with emotion and passion, which is evident by his comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When he actually gets to the rim, he chooses to dunk. When he actually makes a 3-pointer, he turns around to pump up the crowd.

Think of Manu Ginobli in the NBA. That’s the way the Spurs’ veteran plays, and he has rarely started a game. Yet he is consistently one of the most effective players in the league.

I think this could be Dekker’s role. His energy could create a spark if he enters after observing and letting things come to him. There is no doubt he can be one of the top players in college basketball, and others agree. He was recently named one of 25 finalists for the Naismith Trophy, which the college hoops’ version of the Heisman Trophy.

When the Badgers started 16-0, it was Dekker who was dominant. He was excellent when they beat the now No. 3 Florida Gators, and he was named the MVP of the Cancun Challenge when they beat West Virginia and St. Louis.

When Sconnie lost four of six, it was Dekker who was awful. Clearly, the team lives and dies with its lengthy sophomore guard. Getting him through what has been the toughest stretch in his young Badger career will be vital to advancing through the NCAA tournament.

Jay Williams of ESPN predicted the Badgers to win the national championship. While many have jumped off the bandwagon, they better hope for re-entry if Dekker returns to his early season form. If he does, I think he and the Badgers could make Mr. Williams seem like a very, very intelligent man.