MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Badgers are desperate in every sense of the word. Desperate to get a win, desperate to stop talking about bad defense and - after last night's loss to Northwestern - desperate to make a basket.
Perhaps what the Badgers are also desperate for is a leader.
For the past two and a half weeks, the Badgers have talked about what it takes for them to get back to their winning ways that make talking about AOL seem more relevant every time they are brought up. But that's all it has been for this Wisconsin squad that currently finds itself in the midst of a 1-4 stretch. Talk.
Thursday after practice, Sam Dekker did some more talking, but this was not the same talk that made it seem like the players were spending their down time memorizing quotes off of index cards the coaching staff gave them.
Dekker's talk and his body language that accompanied his words made it seem as if the fun-loving, goofy boy from Sheboygan, Wis., had been possessed.
Dekker became the team's leader.
"After the game you can't make excuses, you can't point fingers, you have to look at yourself," Dekker said of last night's 65-56 loss to Northwestern. "Can all five guys that were on the court at a given time say that they were giving 100 percent effort?"
Those unfamiliar with Dekker's personality might be led to believe that this was fairly routine for the 6-foot-8 sophomore, but his loose and fairly relaxed attitude would suggest otherwise.
Upon completion of practice, Dekker came back out onto the floor - not to take extra shots as his did post-game last night - to talk with assistant coach Gary Close about his frustration level. Though the conversation was in private, Dekker's body language showed that he was not happy with the downward spiral the team was on.
"Coach Close expects a lot out of me," Dekker said of the conversation, "and he's a guy I like to open up to a lot. He said 'hey, enough is enough. You have to be a leader.' It's time to stand up, be a man about it, go out there and do it - and you can't just be talking."
"People are going to see the weak dog," Dekker continued. "People are going to see, 'oh that dog is lame, he's looking soft, let's go after him.' People do that and you can't just go out there and think that because I'm talented, I can hit a jumper that things are going to work for me."
Dekker, who is averaging a team-high 14.0 points per game this season, drew a line in the sand when he said he felt the team had a lot of guys who talked about what it takes to win but then challenged them to go out and actually do it.
This change of mindset caught many off guard and Dekker himself knew that he was being uncharacteristically critical of his team by stepping into the spotlight and voicing his opinion.
"I think you guys (the media) know that I like to be liked," Dekker said. "I like people having fun around me and stuff. If you want to be successful at stuff, you can't be liked by everybody. It's time to switch some stuff up.
"Enough with the words. We've got some changes (coming up) where we can still do something pretty special with this team and you've got to believe that."
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