Badgers' Dekker ready to be a leader

Earlier this year, the sun rose, the IRS collected taxes and Wisconsin reached the NCAA tournament.

The Badgers haven’t missed the Big Dance under Bo Ryan. And they’ve never finished below fourth in the Big Ten. It’s a remarkable run for a team that has been forced to hit reset multiple times throughout Ryan’s tenure.

His program must reload again this season. Last year’s veteran anchors-- Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren -- are gone.

But the Badgers boast a strong backcourt that will feature Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and a healthy Josh Gasser, who will return after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.

The star, a notion Ryan would probably not condone, should be sophomore Sam Dekker (9.6 points per game, 39.1 percent from behind the 3-point line). Last season, he was one of the top reserves in the country. That debut increased the buzz about his second year.

He’s already listed on several NBA mock draft boards. And the 6-foot-7 forward could crack the Big Ten’s preseason all-conference first team later this month.

Dekker seems ready for the moment. He also accepts the additional leadership responsibilities.

“I consider myself more of a leader this year,” he told ESPN.com. “I think the guys picked up on that, too. I feel like they trust me more this year. I’ve been much more aggressive in practice and this whole offseason. They definitely recognize that. Hopefully that’s going to be something I can continue during the year. … I feel like I could be a good leader for this team. And I feel like we have a bunch of other guys who can do the same.”

He obviously won’t have to do it alone. There are other veterans within the program.

Gasser is a redshirt junior this season. He’ll help on and off the floor, Ryan said.

“They are a good complement; there’s no question,” he said. “They play off of each other pretty well.”

Dekker acknowledges that things are different this year. He simply focused on adapting to the college game and learning Ryan’s system when he was a freshman. The buffer provided by last year’s seniors eased his transition.

He’s a pivotal contributor for this year’s group. Younger players will come to him for advice and assistance. He’ll have to guide this team toward its potential.

The sophomore forward, however, is not intimidated by the change.

“I think we have a really deep team this year,” he said. “If we have good chemistry, we’re going to be tough to stop.”