CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Frank Kaminsky was hoping Sam Dekker would go at him.
Dekker was looking forward challenging his former Wisconsin Badgers teammate Thursday night at Spectrum Center.
But when Dekker had his chance against Kaminsky in the second quarter of Houston’s 107-95 win, his dunk attempt was blocked by Miles Plumlee.
“What’s the old adage? Mouse in the house,” the 6-foot-11 Kaminsky quipped before the game about posting up against the 6-9 Dekker.
The matchup between the former Badgers teammates who led Wisconsin to consecutive Final Four appearances in 2014 and 2015 didn’t exactly light the NBA marquee.
Kaminsky was just 3 of 9 and missed all three of his 3-point attempts while finishing with 9 points. Dekker also missed his three shots from behind the arc and had 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting. The two did sink consecutive buckets early in the second quarter.
As for his blocked dunk, Dekker showed video of the play to Rockets teammate James Harden in the locker room, claiming he was fouled. Harden, who had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but also nine turnovers in the sloppy game, agreed with Dekker.
Thursday was just the second time Dekker and Kaminsky were on the same court since they left Wisconsin. But, even as Kaminsky scored 22 points when the Hornets went to Houston last month and Dekker had only 5 points, the Rockets won both games.
Dekker, who is from Sheboygan, Wis., and Kaminsky, who hails from Lisle, Ill., became like brothers during their three years together in Wisconsin. And, just as you want to beat your brother in the back yard, each was hungry to best each other Thursday night.
When I told Dekker that Kaminsky said he would “be going at him” if Dekker was defending him, Dekker just smiled.
“I’ve heard that before from Frank,” Dekker joked. “It’s always good to play against Frank, good to play against friends and former teammates. It’s pretty cool for our families.
“We spent a lot of time together, did a lot of good things at school together. Seeing how we’ve come, I’m proud of what he’s done.”
Kaminsky was the NCAA player of the year in 2015 before the Hornets selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Dekker chose to forgo his senior season at Wisconsin and join Kaminsky in the 2015 draft, with the Rockets selecting him 18th overall.
Neither made much of an impact as rookies. Kaminsky played in all but one game last season, but with just three starts and averaged 7.5 points per game on 41-percent shooting. Kaminsky has improved in just about every statistical category this season, and his scoring average is up to 10.3 points per game.
Dekker was plagued by a back injury last season, seeing time in just three NBA games while splitting time with Houston’s D-League affiliate in Hidalgo with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
“The main thing was finding my confidence once I got my feet back and legs under me,” Dekker said. “It takes a lot out of you being hurt, mentally and physically, so getting a few games down there definitely gave me the feeling that I was back in the basketball swing of things.”
But it was during the Summer League when Dekker thinks he really “turned the corner.” He’s played in 55 games this season, with one start, and is averaging 7.4 points per game after not even attempting a shot as a rookie.
“I spent all of the spring and summer in Houston rehabbing, getting stronger, just trying to fine-tune my game as much as possible,” Dekker said. “No one really expected me to be in a position to be a big contributor for this team this year. I used that as motivation and make a splash. So far, it’s worked.
“But that just means there’s so much more to do to continue to get better.”
The Rockets and Hornets hope both former Badgers continue to improve.
Though the Rockets arrived in Charlotte late Wednesday night, the two still made time to go out for dinner.
“That’s one of my best friends,” Kaminsky said, “so when he comes into town, I’ve got to see him.”
The Rockets won’t visit Charlotte again until next season. Maybe then, they’ll both in the starting lineup.