Men's hoops: Dakota Joe Cool

Freshman forward has become a major contributor for Wisconsin; Krabbenhoft is building confidence and is driven to become a great shooter. Just don't ask him for a nickname.

MADISON—What, after all, is in a name?

For a humble and hard-working South Dakota native it might just be plain old ‘Joe.' Should it be last names you go by though, perhaps the mouthful of ‘Krabbenhoft' better suits the unique style of a player quickly becoming a well-known freshman not just locally but nationwide.

He is constantly on the move—crashing the boards, making sure to be the first one to a loose ball, even scoring a bit more of late. In the process The ‘Hoft has lofted his clout through 18 games and garnered respect for his tenacity and basketball IQ by, among others, ESPN faces Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin.

By the time the announcing duo had finished its second national Badger telecast in as many weeks, Krabbenhoft had unofficially become the duo's darling. Struggling to find a nickname for the 6-foot-7, sixth or seventh man in the rotation, Musberger called out the Madison local media to concoct a persona for this unassuming Jessica Simpson nut from Sioux Falls.

"I've heard they really wanted a nickname for me," Krabbenhoft laughed. "I heard Iceman and Dakota. I've never heard of Iceman for me. I was 1 of 6 that game, so I don't think I'm really an iceman, yet."

So maybe it takes quite a bit more than knocking down a pair of clutch free throws and scooping up a loose ball in a recent road win at Minnesota to earn the frigid moniker subscribed to by Coach Lavin. But those late sequences in Williams Arena were indicative of the increased importance of Krabbenhoft to this UW roster, which of late has been depleted.

Over the past four games Dakota Joe has seen an increase in minutes to 26.3 per game. Before that coming out party at Minnesota, which a number of people from his South Dakota circle attended, Krabbenhoft had never logged more than 17 minutes. Over the past four games, he is averaging 6.3 points and, perhaps more importantly, 8.5 rebounds.

What the numbers fail to tell, however, is the difference in Krabbenhoft's demeanor over recent weeks. Krabbenhoft is carrying himself with more confidence. Though he still hesitates with his shot occasionally, he is less afraid to be bold and quicker to shrug off mistakes and move on. All of that stems from having greater belief in himself and his abilities. For that, his nickname of late might be Confidence Man.

Last Saturday in the Badgers' frustrating loss to North Dakota State, Krabbenhoft had the ball outside the 3-point line and lobbed a pass to Alando Tucker over the head of a fronting defender. The ball, within reach but perhaps a little further than Tucker anticipated, landed just out of bounds. Krabbenhoft pointed at the arc of the pass as if to say he meant for Tucker to grab it out of the air. But as the players jogged down the court to take up defense after the turnover, it was Krabbenhoft who patted Tucker on the backside and the two moved on together.

That kind of comfort in himself and his role within the team is welcomed with open arms, as leaders like Tucker can concentrate more on themselves than watching over the younger guys.

"That's what is so great about this sport," Krabbenhoft said. "In football you can go sit in the huddle for 25 seconds and think about it or whatever. Baseball, you can stand there forever. But basketball, you've got to move on. I throw the ball out of bounds or maybe Tucker could have got it but who cares? It doesn't matter. You've got to move on to the next play."

Much of that increased confidence, according to Krabbenhoft, comes from other players rubbing off on him. In particular, his roommate and fellow freshman Marcus Landry has had an impact. Krabbenhoft said that a lot of people had been telling him that both he and Landry were great players but that he needed to elevate his self-confidence. Observing Landry and heeding the older players' advice to shoot more has shown its benefits on the court.

Tucker also points out the perhaps unique position Krabbenhoft finds himself in. The team knew coming into the season that with a young roster some freshmen would need to step forward. But with the recent depletion of the bench, including Landry's academic ineligibility, the Badgers have to rely on Krabbenhoft even more. That gives him a chance to perhaps open up and not feel the same kind of pressure as he might getting just 10-12 minutes per game.

"He has a little more leeway to get away with making a mistake and learning from that on the court, and doesn't have to get pulled out," Tucker said. "I think that just helps him with his confidence. But he's learning and I think that's going to be great, that's definitely great for us going down the stretch of the Big Ten."

One thing that has paid dividends already for the conference-leading Badgers has been Krabbenhoft sacrificing his body to make the play. More often than not, Joe Dirt will be the first one on the ground and the first one at the trainer's table. From bruises to breaks, this is nothing new for Krabbenhoft, who just as frequently injured himself in high school trying to make a play. He also suffered his third foot injury this summer, requiring a great deal of training to get back to form in time.

On Saturday at the Kohl Center it was his chin. Bandaged up after briefly getting looked at on the bench, Krabbenhoft had to come out for that injury in the first half—a half in which he was the only Badger to connect on a field goal in the final 15 minutes of play. At halftime, Krabbenhoft had six stitches to go with his team-leading seven points.

"I think this is the fifth time underneath the chin, so it probably reopened some old scars," Krabbenhoft said. "But I don't really care. It only held me out for a couple minutes. I've had enough stitches, plenty."

Scarface though he may be, or perhaps a Captain Intangible of sorts, Krabbenhoft is setting lofty goals for the long career remaining ahead of him. He believes that he has come far as a player already. That, he stressed, is a credit to his coaches and teammates as much as it is to him.

Krabbenhoft thinks it will be fun to sit down at the end of the season and perhaps compare tape of his first eight games to his next eight games and so on.

"I've come a long ways," Krabbenhoft said. "Just slowing down, and I still need to slow down a lot. Coach Ryan always says that, so I know I have to slow down because he's usually right. But I've come a long way and not as far as I want to be."

Where he wants to be is shooting the ball purely, to be what he calls a knockdown shooter. Watching highlights of elite players like Duke's J.J. Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison only makes him want it all the more. To even begin, Krabbenhoft realizes he needs to work incredibly hard this offseason and he plans to do just that.

Anytime the team does a shooting drill Krabbenhoft does his best never to goof around on any shot. Together with shooting coach Gary Close he has already improved upon his free throw shooting since entering practice, and Krabbenhoft believes the mechanics are there for the tweaking in order to become a superior marksman.

"I just really want to be a great shooter one day and that takes hard work," Krabbenhoft said.

For now he is getting accustomed to the first step towards becoming a big-time player, which is playing any sort of role at all on a big-time team. Krabbenhoft admits that playing at Wisconsin is quite a bit different from high school ball in South Dakota.

There he lost a game and people in a radius of just a couple miles would take notice, Krabbenhoft said. Now the team loses and it is all over ESPN. Playing on the losing side of perhaps the largest upset in college hoops this season, Krabbenhoft felt the other side of being "big time."

"I've got people all over the country calling me like, ‘What in the world'?" Krabbenhoft said. "So that kind of reality sets in right there. That's a big difference. We're a pretty big deal. And I don't say that in a cocky way at all, but we are. But it is something we knew coming in here and we have to live up to it."

Call it an experience. After all, that in-game experience is what has begun to allow Krabbenhoft to flourish at a much higher competitive level. Junior point guard Kammron Taylor feels like now that Krabbenhoft has been in these situations, has been relied upon to contribute right away, that the team can count on him to make big plays as much as anyone.

Though the Badgers did not pick up wins in either of the first two games they played with a shortened bench, Taylor said that should not discount the fact that Krabbenhoft has shown tremendous strides in these games, and that he will only continue to improve.

"Everything comes with game time experience," Taylor said. "Practice is different from games, and he's just starting to get that experience in. I just think he's starting to get that confidence in himself because coach is starting to show that confidence in him."

And so the quest for an alias comes full circle but still nothing fitting emerges. Krabbenhoft admits he does not mind the Iceman, but notes that George Gervin is the only Iceman, and that he would not want to steal that name.

If it is simplicity people want, he thinks Joe is cool enough, perhaps Joe Cool even cooler. (Although no word on whether Krabbenhoft is a fan of Snoopy).

"If I need a nickname, somebody will think of a good one," Krabbenhoft eventually smirked.

Rocking back against the wall and racking his brain for a good idea, a cheerful and at one point laughing Krabbenhoft provided only one demand. Referring to a nickname that is quite popular in his family but never caught on with him, a smiling and good-natured Krabbenhoft laid it out—emotionally appropriate enough: "Krabby. I do not want that."


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