Inside the NBA Draft

Sam Dekker’s trip to New York generated much suspense — and a perfect ending.

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Sam Dekker

Photo by Mark Westcott/ NBAE/ Getty Images

NBA commissioner Adam Silver keeps walking to the podium at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, but he doesn’t call Sam Dekker x’16’s name. The star forward who helped Wisconsin reach the national title game sits with his family at a table on the arena’s floor, waiting for a team to pick him. His agent, seated across from him, is not getting definitive information. “This could be us,” he tells Dekker before the announcement of six or seven teams’ selections, but so far it isn’t.

Dekker had worked out for nine teams leading up to the NBA draft on June 25, so when the last of them, Atlanta, passes on him at fifteen, and Boston and Milwaukee do the same with the next two picks, he becomes anxious. “Am I going to get picked tonight?” he wonders.

Two hours earlier, the Minnesota Timberwolves made Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns the top pick of 2015. There are officially five minutes between selections, but it’s often longer. Draftees and their families describe the wait as nerve-wracking and excruciating. The intensity at Dekker’s table picks up when Detroit, a possible destination, goes on the clock at number eight, but the Pistons take a different small forward. Dekker is fairly stoic as most of the selections are announced, but when the Charlotte Hornets draft fellow Badger Frank Kaminsky ’15 with the next pick, he stands to give him a hug.

Oklahoma City has the fourteenth and final pick of the “lottery” — the selections among the teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season. The Thunder take one of the other top prospects invited to the draft. Dreams are being realized all around Dekker, but he can only wait. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — whom Dekker first met at an awards banquet in high school — texts Dekker, reminding him to smile. “Be patient,” he writes. “You’re going to a playoff team.”

Boston passes on him, as does Milwaukee, ensuring that the Sheboygan native will have to leave the state to continue his basketball career. Throughout the night, there was commotion around a particular prospect’s table a minute or two before each pick was announced. ESPN’s television cameras would creep closer. A woman carrying a stack of hats would hover nearby. That isn’t the case as the clock ticks down for Houston’s pick.

Sam’s older brother, John, checks Twitter and sees a report that Houston is going to select someone else. He puts his phone down, but it immediately starts vibrating wildly. He checks again, reads a revised report, and tells his brother, “You’re going to be a Rocket.” There’s not enough time to process the news before Silver makes it official. “With the eighteenth pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the Houston Rockets select Sam Dekker from the University of Wisconsin,” he says.

The wait is over.

Published in the Fall 2015 issue

Tags: Alumni, Athletics, Badger, basketball

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