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LUCAS AT LARGE M I K E LUCA S • UWB A DGERS.C OM Dekker ready for own March memories W ant to feel old? Sam Dekker's earliest remembrance of March Madness was the 2002 Final Four in which Maryland defeated Indiana, 62-54, in the national championship game. "I was glued to the TV,'' said Dekker, a UW freshman from Sheboygan. "For some reason I remember that one vividly. I was still a little kid and I would go out and play like Juan Dixon.'' Dixon, a stylish Maryland guard, was the Most Outstanding Player. The Badgers got a taste of Dixon in a second round game of the '02 NCAA Tournament at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. Playing only a few miles from their campus, Dixon scored 26 points in leading the Terps to a convincing 87-57 win over Wisconsin in what was Bo Ryan's first season as a Big Ten head coach. Dixon had 33 against Kansas in the national semifinals — the Jayhawks advanced through the Midwest Regional at the Kohl Center — before adding 18 against the Hoosiers in the title game. Maryland head coach Gary Williams celebrated his alma mater's first NCAA crown by cutting down the nets in Atlanta, the site of this season's Final Four. "I don't know why that sticks out to me, but it always has,'' Dekker said. "The tournament was always on in my house because we're such a basketball family. I've watched it my entire life.'' All 18 years. Dekker will be much 16 » VARSITY MAR CH 21, 2013 more than a spectator Friday when the Badgers open against Ole Miss in Kansas City. So what's his excitement level now that he has finally made it to the Big Dance? "I'm excited as ever,'' he said. "It's a dream come true to play on a stage like this. I get to go out and do what I've watched other guys do. It's going to be cool.'' Dekker won a high school state championship at Sheboygan Lutheran and his head coach/dad always reminded him to "embrace'' the postseason and "never take any team for granted.'' There can be no compromise, no surrender in March. "It's a great time for any type of basketball,'' Dekker said. "Whenever you're playing deep into the spring, it's more fun and more intense.'' Even though Dekker carried that mindset into last weekend's Big Ten tournament, he still got a wake-up call in UW's opener against Michigan when he was failed to score from the field. "It was my first time being on a neutral court in a venue like that (the United Center) with a tournament attitude,'' he said. "It helped me mature pretty quickly in those three days.'' Dekker bounced back impressively to score 11 in UW's win over Indiana in the semifinals. Based on what he has seen casually on Ole Miss during the season, he already has a healthy respect. Certainly, he will learn more about strengths and weaknesses this week during the film study. "Obviously, they have some shooters and Marshall Henderson,'' Dekker said. "That's probably the name that sticks out when you think of Ole Miss. But you can't forget about their other guys. "I'm eager to find out more. I've watched Henderson a little bit. He's a high-energy guy. He plays with a lot of heart and passion. He embraces the game.'' Turn to page one of the coaching manual and read: It's still more about what Wisconsin does. "It's a collective effort,'' said Dekker. "We all have the same intentions going into this tournament run. It's going to be 'all hands on deck' if we want to get to where we want to go. "I think we have a team that is ready for that. We've matured a lot as a group, as a unit. We've gotten some big wins and gone on some winning streaks.'' Surviving a rugged conference slate and tournament has hardened Wisconsin and its fraternity brothers. "Every team in the Big Ten has gotten each team ready for this tournament,'' Dekker said. And nobody has to be reminded of the ground rules in March. "It's loser go home and you never want to face that,'' he said. "It's much more intense from that aspect. We're well aware of that.'' Sitting in front of his TV all those years, he's also aware that every tournament has memorable buzzerbeaters. "Every competitor,'' he said, "wants to be in that situation.'' Bring on the madness.