When it comes to the NBA, certain colleges and universities dominate, with alumni prevalent throughout the league – names like Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Indiana and North Carolina all come to mind.
For the Wisconsin Badgers, throughout decades of history, there has been less success. According to realgm.com, only 27 Badgers have ever seen playing time in the NBA. Unlike other “blue bloods,” Badgers tend to stay for all four years, though there are exceptions to that rule.
Enter Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. The stars that famously “Made ‘Em Believe” in leading the ’14-’15 Wisconsin team to the National Championship, these two Badgers are anything but the norm, already showing success in their respective NBA sophomore seasons. Kaminsky graudated in 2015, and Dekker elected to forego his senior year to enter the NBA Draft.
Dekker and Kaminsky join Jon Leuer of the Pistons and Devin Harris of the Mavericks as the only active Badgers in the NBA. Save for Michael Finley, Harris may be considered the best Badger to ever play professionally, as he and Finley are the only two Wisconsin players to ever play at least ten seasons and score at least 10 points per game.
But if things continue the way they’re going right now, the ’15 duo may have those two outmatched. Frank Kaminsky, who first got attention at Wisconsin for dropping 43 points against North Dakota in his junior season, is now a mainstay of the Charlotte Hornets. He’s played in 37 of 38 games this season, and has found his way onto the starting lineup in six of those games. Though his shooting percentages (39% FG, 29% 3FG) and PER (12.54) leave something to be desired, Kaminsky’s role on the team is becoming solidified, and he’s shown outbursts of brilliance this season. Against the Grizzlies in November, he went for 23 points on 9/11 (3/4 from three) shooting. From his rookie season, he’s increased his free throw shooting percentage (73% last year, 75% this year), rebounding (4.1 to 4.6), assists (1.2 to 2.1), and scoring (7.5 to 10.3). What’s more remarkable is that in 121 games, he’s only missed two. Though he may never lead the league in any statistical category and an All-Star ballot seems like a long shot, Frank Kaminsky has certainly made a name for himself in the league.
The rise of Sam Dekker may be even more pronounced. After a rookie season hobbled by a devastating back injury, Dekker’s offseason was marked by perseverance and determination. As a result, the Sheboygan product hasn’t even missed a game this season, seeing nearly 20 minutes per game as well. Through 40 games, Dekker is averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, as well as shooting 48% from the field (33% from three). He turned in a career-high 19 point performance against Sacramento in December, but perhaps his most impressive game came against Dallas two days after Christmas, when Dekker when for nine points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals. He’s also been on the ESPN highlight reel quite a bit, posterizing defenders left and right when he gets the chance.
Though Dekker and Kaminsky may not be approaching astronomical levels of play quite yet, the two are already among the best Badgers to ever play in the NBA. Just halfway through their second season, the two already rank in the top 20 Badgers in NBA Games Played (Kaminsky 10th, Dekker 19th), and are top 10 for points per game (Kaminsky 4th, Dekker 10th) and rebounds per game (Kaminsky 4th, Dekker 8th). Given time to develop, the two will get the opportunity to approach (and maybe even surpass) Finley and Harris as the most successful Wisconsin alumni to ever play in the NBA.
On Tuesday night, the two faced off for the first time, and while Frank was able to drop 22, it was Dekker’s night as the Rockets pulled off the 121-114 victory. And while the two may not have led their respective teams in scoring (though Kaminsky was close), one thing is clear: “Made ‘Em Believe” didn’t end after a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the National Championship Game. The pair of Badger teammates, immortalized even in the form of actual Badgers, continues to make ’em believe in the NBA.