When we all saw Sam Dekker do the unthinkable at the Kohl Center last March there was no doubt we were witnessing the beginning of something special in that building. The question seemed to be a matter of when, not if, Dekker would become "the guy" on this team. Well, after the last three performances, could we be seeing the when being answered?
Clearly he had the talent to take over as the star of the Badgers, however asking him to do that as a Freshman under Bo Ryan.... Well, we all know how Bo uses the youngest of his players - slowly building them up, if using them in any significant amount at all.
Instead Dekker has shown an ability on the offensive end that is rare for a Big Ten freshman, let alone a Badger. After all he did become the first Badger to win Big Ten Freshman of the Week back on January 14th. However, following that award it was a bit of an up and down ride. That is until the past three games.
Dekker has come up with performances of 12, 14, and 13 points in games against Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State. All of this after three games in which he scored a total of 14 points.
So, what's the big deal, right? Freshman have ups and downs all the time, it's in their nature. Well, sure that's true to an extent.
What's significant is the fact that we usually see freshman tail off towards the end of the season and in Dekker's case we just witnessed him reverse that trend and do so in emphatic fashion.
We saw a stretch likes this from Dekker early on in Big Ten play where he scored 13, 10, and 13 against Illinois, Indiana, and Nebraska - but doing it late in the season and in the fashion he's done it - it's just different this time around.
He's always been confident in his shot, but as of late he's demanding more of the ball and taking over when he does have the ball in his hands. In fact on Saturday between his play and the play of Ben Brust the Badgers really took over in the first half as Dekker scored 8 of his 13 points in the half.
More importantly we've seen much more consistency on both ends of the floor and that has allowed him to play more consistent minutes as well. In fact, the freshman just got done playing more minutes in a game that saw Ryan Evans also playing well. Dekker played 28 minutes to Evans' 24.
Just how good as he been overall? Well, Ryan stopped just short of praising his defensive effort completely - which for Ryan is really the equivalent of handing out praise.
“If I say (he was), and he (Dekker) watches your station, he’ll think ‘wow, Coach really likes my defense’ and he’ll stop working on defense," said Ryan after the OSU win. "He did some good things. He showed that he’s listening and improving and still has some gaps to fill in.”
Of course that's just one game, but it's a telling sign that when Evans is shooting well (4-7 FG's) his minutes are becoming less at a critical junction of the season. Instead Dekker got the majority of minutes and has gotten in to a rotation of offense for defense at critical game moments if need be. If that's not an admission of how good Dekker is, I don't know what is.
What's even more telling? Dekker has taken more shots than Evans has over the past two games (15 to Dekker's 16) as well.
More importantly and more telling is the fact that veteran players are looking towards the freshman's way in key situations already. That, more than anything should tell us all just how important Dekker is becoming in Wisconsin's recent resurgence.
If this is just the tip of the iceberg than Badger nation is going to be in for a treat, because he's already capable of taking a game over and he's doing it late in the season during perhaps the most difficult Big Ten slog in conference history as well.
There's no denying that down the stretch here Dekker has become a key cog in Wisconsin's ability to hang in the conference title race.