The “next man up” cliche is a motto the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball team has been forced to adopt as of late due to a slew of injuries that have hampered its roster.
This past weekend, that next man up was sophomore George Diekelman.
The 6-foot-3 guard stuffed the stat sheet against Concordia on Nov. 24, scoring 21 points, grabbing five rebounds, dishing out three assists and forcing three steals in the Blugolds 83-78 victory.
“We can’t wait to get (Adam) Hjelter and (Tyson) Kalien back in the rotation,” Diekelman said. “But me and Jack (Martinek) are just trying to be aggressive and help the team win by stepping up.”
Martinek is averaging 15.2 points per game, while Diekelman is averaging 12.6 and the new one-two punch is providing Eau Claire instant offense while Hjelter and Kalien nurture their injuries.
With a clear offensive void to fill, Diekelman said the experience he’s gained over the past year is a primary cause of his early season success.
The Stevens Point native said he spent the offseason sharpening all aspects of his game in order to continue his role as the all-in-one guard he played last season.
This time last year, Diekelman hadn’t even cracked the Blugold rotation yet.
What a difference a year can make as Diekelman now leads the team in minutes played with 32.7 per game.
But Diekelman isn’t the only sophomore making his presence felt in the Eau Claire lineup.
Last week, sophomore Chris Duff played 27 minutes against Concordia and 18 the following night against Northland.
Duff, a graduate of Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School (Minn.) scored 15 points on Concordia and 11 against Northland. Diekelman said though it may have taken the 6-foot-5 forward a few games to get comfortable, it is clear he is a guy they can trust on the floor.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Diekelman said. “That is helping him shoot the ball well.”
Head coach Matt Siverling said Duff’s development over the summer is a direct result of his floor minutes the last week. The lengthy Duff was told he needed to gain strength in order to compete in the physical WIAC.
After a summer to put on weight, Duff earned the trust of Siverling and his staff and obtained a spot in the rotation.
“He came back different physically which has really helped him a lot,” Siverling said. “He’s always been real talented offensively.”
Siverling is hoping the offense of Duff and Diekelman carry into this week’s games at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 p.m. Dec. 5 at Zorn Arena.