POSTED: Feb 29, 2016 8:20 PM ET
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Rookie forward Sam Dekker has returned to the Houston Rockets, just in time for a game Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks and a trip back to his home state.
The former college star at Wisconsin and Houston's first-round draft pick was recalled from Rio Grande Valley of the NBA Development League on Sunday. He played sparingly for the Rockets in three November games before being sidelined by back surgery.
So it was happy coincidence for Dekker that his return came on a trip to Milwaukee, about an hour's drive south from his hometown of Sheboygan. Sitting at his locker pregame, Dekker was hunched over in a chair, busily sorting out ticket requests for friends and family.
"People are just handing them to me. I heard there were buses coming from Sheboygan with people," said Dekker, tickets laid out on the floor.
Dekker played an integral role on the Wisconsin teams that went to consecutive Final Fours in 2014-15. The high-energy forward averaged 19.2 points in last year's NCAA tournament and entered the draft following his breakout junior season.
His rookie year in the NBA hasn't quite gone as initially planned, but he said his back injury was caught early enough that "I'll be good to go for the rest of my career now. ... It is coming full circle and I'm happy to be healthy again."
Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Dekker's explosiveness is back following the injury. He also loved the smarts Dekker displayed during his D-League stint.
"Basketball IQ is the first thing that stands out," Bicketstaff said. "He can make the next pass or the next play, whether that's the finish or the kick-out pass. That fits perfectly for our system. He hit that game-winner in one of their games. He has that clutch gene in him."
The 6-foot-9 Dekker was a matchup problem in college with his inside-out game. Breaking into the rotation this season in Houston could be tough, though, especially with the Rockets hoping to secure a playoff spot.
"We're pretty heavy at the wing spot with the guys that we have," Bickerstaff said. "There's limited opportunity there. But again, he needs to be prepared to play."