The pre-draft interview is an important component of an NBA team’s decision-making process in the lead-up to draft day. To get a glimpse inside the interview process, The Players’ Tribune brought together Chris Grant, longtime NBA executive, and former Wisconsin Badger and draft hopeful Sam Dekker for a mock draft interview. Take it away, guys.
Chris Grant: Let’s get started. Tell me a little about your past, where you’re from, about your family.
San Dekker: I’m from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Grew up and lived there my whole life. I’m the baby of the family. I’ve got a brother and sister who are older than me — Hannah’s 24 and lives in Milwaukee and John’s 28 now and he’s married and living in Sheboygan. My dad’s been a teacher for 30-some years and was a coach for 20-plus and my mom works part-time, so I grew up in a good family and was lucky to have the family I did.
CG: And did you say somewhere that your dad is a coach?
SD: Yeah, he coached me in high school at two high schools in my city. So he coached my brother and myself.
CG: How was that? Did you ride to the games together and ride home, or take separate cars?
SD: We took separate cars to and from games, not because of any father-son strain or anything, but because I liked hanging out with my friends after games. But he was good about it. I never called him dad on the court, but I never called him coach off of it. On the court it was player-coach, but once we stepped off the court, we flipped the switch pretty well. He never put that pressure on me, because he knew I worked hard and loved the game.
CG: Do you have a girlfriend?
SD: I do, I do. She goes to Michigan (which people give me a hard time about).
CG: Yeah, I’m sure they do. But you’re still keeping it in the Big Ten, so that’s good.
SD: She even kinda turned into a Badger fan a little bit, especially with our run this year, so she was wearing red a lot of the year.
CG: That’s great. Now, tell me something in the past three or four years that you’ve gone through that’s been difficult.
SD: I would say one of the most difficult things is just getting over injuries. Luckily — knock on wood — I haven’t had any career-threatening injuries, but I went through a pretty bad ankle sprain this past year, and that was when I was playing the best ball of my life. Of course, when you go down with an injury, you want to try to rush it back, but then you can fall behind even more. So at first, the injury really affected my game and it started to affect me mentally. Learning how to go through that was big for me.
CG: What else do you like to do? What’s important to you?
SD: A lot of things are important to me. Friends and family are really important to me. I kind of have a smaller circle now, but people I can always go to are important to me. I play a lot of video games, too. It’s a way I can get my mind off of stuff and just get away.
CG: What’s your game of choice?
SD: It’s kind of seasonal. During football season I play Madden, and right now I play MLB. I play Call of Duty sometimes. I’m not a big NBA 2K guy, but next year when I’m in the game, I’ll probably play it more.
CG: Shifting gears, it sounds like you have a great family. That’s awesome. So tell me, when you have to make a decision, who do you lean on? Who are your advisors?
SD: My brother is my number one — I go to him for everything. He’s six years older than me and I’ve always looked up to him and tried to do everything he did. So that’s probably the first guy I go to for advice. But if I just need someone to talk to I go to my roommate, Zach Showalter, who was one of my teammates. Or guys like Josh Gasser, who was also on my team. I have a pretty good group of guys that I can go to for whatever.
A lot of people call me Deck, or Sammy D. Our old director of basketball operations at school called me Harry.
CG: And who were you close to on Wisconsin?
SD: I know it sounds weird, but literally everybody. We were all close. I know every team says that, but we were a tight-knit group. Off the court, I probably hung out with Zach the most, and also Josh and Frank [Kaminsky]. We had a really good group of guys.
CG: And do you have a nickname?
SD: Not anything crazy. A lot of people call me Deck, or Sammy D. Our old director of basketball operations at school called me Harry because my freshman year, Coach Ryan in the film session called me High School Harry because I made some mistake that was a rookie mistake. That kind of stuck with some people.
CG: Everybody has a different role on a team. There are always a couple jokesters, there are the quiet guys, the practical guys. Where do you fall into?
SD: I would fall into the instigator, the fire starter. I’m the guy that likes to get the conversation going and get people riled up. I would get into little debates with guys just to light a fire under them. That was kind of my role, to try to keep guys loose and be that guy in the locker room. Always calling people out for stuff, but always with love for the guys.
I’m the guy that likes to get the conversation going and get people riled up.
CG: Who do people compare you to in the NBA?
SD: They don’t really tell me who they see me as, but they ask me who I see myself as. It’s a question I don’t really like because I want to be the best Sam Dekker I could possibly be. That’s just how I’m wired. But you always want to learn from people who are better than you. I don’t necessarily say I want to compare myself to the greatest of all time or anything, so I try to learn from guys that I can actually see myself being. I think of guys like Trevor Ariza, who’s got a lot of athleticism but he can also knock down the big shot. He’s always on winning teams making winning plays. Gordon Hayward is another good player. We had similar questions coming into the draft, and you can see how hard he worked to get himself to the next level. It’s pretty cool to see his whole transformation since he’s gotten in the league. I don’t see that as a bad thing to want to be like.
CG: If you could pick a team where you’d like to go, which one would you pick?
SD: Man, I can’t even answer that, to be honest. One, because I haven’t really had a favorite team for many years now. And two, because I don’t wanna say something I shouldn’t.
CG: Do you have any questions for me?
SD: Yes … what advice do you have for me for the transition to the NBA?
CG: It’s important to keep working every day. You’re a worker, so you’ll be fine. I think you’re biggest challenge initially will just be that the pace of the game is different. You’re going to go from guarding guys that are probably smaller than you to guarding guys that are at least the same size, if not bigger. Just compete like crazy. If it’s the middle of February and you’re down 10 in the third quarter and the coach looks down the bench, you want him to look at you and say, “I’m putting Sam in, because I know he’s going to play his butt off.” And the second thing is, just become a knockdown, consistent shooter. Spend all your time in the gym shooting.
SD: Yeah, I agree. Shooting is something I’ve really been working on and I’m definitely taking huge strides. I’m feeling good.
CG: Your first year might be hard just because you’re learning. It’s like going from high school to college. It’s a transition. What you knew by December of your first year of college — if you knew that in high school, how much different would you be, right?
SD: I hear you. I know it’s gonna be a process. I know I have a lot to learn and a lot to get better at. That’s why we’re here, and why it’s so exciting.
CG: Well, Sam, it was great talking to you. I wish you nothing but the best. Are you going to the draft lottery?
SD: Thank you very much. Yeah, I’ll be at the draft. I’m just getting excited for it and trying to enjoy New York while I’m here.