He's picked up all-conference honors, he's been to each of the past two Final Fours, he's wowed on a national stage, and he's even guarded LeBron James.
There are plenty of reasons why people are so excited to see what Sam Dekker can do in the NBA.
Dekker comes pretty close to being able to do everything expected of a 6-foot-9 small forward. He can shoot, he can defend, he can score at the basket — they don't call him Slam Dekker for nothing, you know — and he's proven himself on college basketball's biggest stages.
But he was a little nervous when it came time for his vertical jump to be measured at last month's NBA Draft Combine.
“You did have a little nerves," he said. "My first vertical jump I was overthinking just a bit because this is your first time doing this stuff, everyone’s new to it, a rookie. And I think a lot of guys would be lying if they said they didn’t have any nerves in here. You shouldn’t because you’ve done so much work to get to this point, but it’s human nature, it’s going to happen.”
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With Dekker, nerves during a vertical-jump measurement comes as a little surprising. After all, this is the same guy who showed America he had ice water in his veins during Wisconsin's march to a second straight Final Four appearance this spring. He scored 20 second-half points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting (5-for-5 from 3-point range) in the Badgers' Elite Eight victory over Arizona, one of three 20-plus-point performances during the Big Dance. And it was Dekker who hit a tie-breaking 3 with fewer than two minutes to play in Wisconsin's Final Four win over Kentucky, the shot that gave the Badgers the lead for good in a win that not only punched a ticket to the national title game but a win that ended the Wildcats' perfect season.
Dekker showed everyone he was Mr. Clutch back in the spring. The summer's been about convincing NBA teams that he can be a valuable addition at the pro level.
“I think I bring a lot of things," Dekker said. "I bring versatility, a competitive drive. The pro game is a style of game I like. I’ve learned a lot of things in regard to discipline and being able to play in systems. So I think when you mix those together, it creates a pretty good combination for someone who can be with many different organizations and fit them well. I think offensively and defensively, I’ll be able to be a good addition to any team, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store here.”
But if the Badgers' NCAA tournament run made Dekker the national star that fans in the Big Ten already knew he was capable of being, it might have also shown what he considers to be one of his biggest weaknesses.
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Two nights after he hit the Final Four's biggest basket, Dekker was cold against Duke, part of the reason Wisconsin couldn't complete its mission to win a national championship. Dekker had 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting, including missing all six 3-point shots he took. He criticized himself after the game, and though he was hardly the only reason the Badgers lost, he put that defeat on himself.
In his post-college career, he's saying he needs to work on being more consistent, specifically when it comes to that 3-point shot, likely because he doesn't want what happened in the national title game to happen again.
“I think I’ve got to be a more consistent outside shooter," Dekker said. "I think I’ve taken great strides doing that, but that’s one thing that was spotty throughout the year, me being able to be a consistent, knock-down outside shooter. I consider myself a pretty good shooter, but I want to become a great shooter. I think I’ll be able to do that.
“Consistency is always going to be a question with everybody, but with me, there’s times I go weeks and play very high-level basketball and then I have a few games where I just wouldn’t be as aggressive. I was passive once in a while. That’s just me maturing and just letting things go and having that confidence that I can be a difference maker every night. That comes with growing up, that comes with maturation, and I think I’ve taken a big step and a big leap in that direction and have gotten much better.”
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There are many reasons people think Dekker is ready for stardom at the next level, and a lot of those things have to do with his body, his athleticism and his game. He's 6-foot-9, and he touted his versatility at the Combine. He's got a 6-foot-11.5 wingspan. He's got a 34-inch vertical leap. He's long enough to defend just about anyone, like when he went up against LeBron James during the NBA superstar's camp last summer. He can score in just about any way you can think of.
But Dekker's also been through it all over the past two seasons with Bo Ryan's Badgers. In addition to playing in 11 NCAA tournament games in two years, he's gone through the nightly rigors of the Big Ten, a league many say prepares its stars for the NBA more than any other.
“The Big Ten is one of those conferences that you see a lot of different styles. Michigan State’s a physical team that likes to get it out of the rim and go. We have teams like us that kind of like to slow it up once in a while. We don’t mind pushing it. And then teams like Indiana that will run it down your throat and put up 3s. So we’ve seen all different sorts of teams, and we played a tough non-conference schedule. So we had every type of style that you want to play thrown at us this year, and I think we handled them all well, myself included," Dekker said. "I like the style of play that the NBA level has. I’m an open-court type of guy and just like to get moving, so I don’t think I’m going to have any kind of trouble transitioning with that.”
Now it just comes down to where Dekker will be playing his professional basketball. Some mock drafts have him just outside the top 10, others have him going in the mid-20s. We obviously won't know for sure until draft night.
But regardless of which team selects one of Sheboygan's favorite sons, they'll likely be giddy over the potential that Dekker brings with him.