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Madison Capital Times; Madison, Wis.; May 12, 2003; Rob Schultz The Capital Times;

Luke Recker was dining at a Mexican restaurant in Madison recently when he was eyeballed by somebody who knew he had spotted a celebrity.

"Are you Dave Mader?" a gentleman asked Recker.

Recker smiled and told him politely that he wasn't the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's 6-foot-11 center.

The visitor to Recker's table refused to believe the former star guard for Indiana and Iowa, who had one of the most recognizable faces in college basketball before he graduated last June.

"I had to argue with this guy for five minutes telling him I wasn't Dave Mader," said Recker, who couldn't convince the guy that the only beans he was full of were from his burrito.

"Finally," Recker continued, "he said, 'You're Luke Recker, aren't you?' I said, 'Yes.' And then he didn't believe me again. I had to get out my ID to show him."

Recker enjoyed telling that story because he is enjoying living in relative anonymity in Madison. He moved here in late March to be closer to his fiancee, Megan Welch. They met when both were going to school at Iowa and are getting married here in July.

"People recognize me here, but they don't believe it. A lot of people don't recognize me at all, too. And that's kind of nice," said Recker, whose storied college career included a shocking transfer from Indiana after playing two years with the Hoosiers, a horrific car accident that left him seriously injured and his former girlfriend paralyzed, and two seasons at Iowa, where the Hawkeyes failed to live up to expectations.

But Recker admits he would like be back in the spotlight again - in the National Basketball Association. He almost made it this past season but was released in a heartbreaking last-minute roster decision by the Miami Heat just before the season opener.

That's why he is spending his time wisely in Madison working out every day at the Kohl Center with former UW star Kirk Penney, who has NBA aspirations of his own and hopes to be selected in that league's draft in late June.

"This is a great place for me to be. I love the area, I love the community. People are great. And the facilities here are unbelievable," Recker said after concluding a long Friday afternoon workout with Penney at the Kohl Center's Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion. "Coach (Bo) Ryan is very kind to let me work out here with Kirk."

Ryan, who knows the family of Recker's fiancee, was more than happy to help out.

"He's marrying my next-door neighbor's daughter," Ryan said of the player whose late-game shooting explosion led Iowa to a first- round upset of the Badgers during the 2002 Big Ten Conference Tournament in Indianapolis. "And he and Kirk will help each other."

Recker and Penney have similar frames, games and friends. They were brought together by Heat forward Sean Marks. Penney and Marks are both from New Zealand and played with the New Zealand national team at the World Basketball Championships last summer. Recker became friends with Marks during the Heat training camp.

"Sean gave Kirk my number and Kirk called me and we decided to hook up and start working out together," said Recker. "We're similar- type players. We're both good shooters, we're both the type of players where if we're in the right situation, we can do really well on an NBA team."

They were hoping to be joined by Reece Gaines, the former Madison West and Louisville star who is a projected lottery pick. But Gaines is working out in Florida with a group of other potential draftees.

Recker and Penney play a little one-on-one and they each shoot at least 100 3-pointers during every workout. They also work on their fundamentals and spend time lifting weights and running sprints at the track.

And they talk. "He's awesome to be around on and off the court," said Penney. "It's been great just to be able to pick his brain."

For instance, Recker gives Penney advice about preparing for the upcoming Chicago pre-draft camp and the individual workouts with NBA scouts. "He's a kid who really deserves good things to happen to him," Recker said of Penney. "Hopefully he'll get his shot to prove it."

And Recker is hoping for one more shot to prove himself after coming so frustratingly close to making the Heat's roster last fall.

He wasn't drafted last June, but played well enough during the NBA's summer league that the Heat signed him. It looked like Recker would make the Heat's final roster, but Miami needed a forward more than a guard for its final roster spot because of the unstable status of Alonzo Mourning. So it released Recker.

It was too late to latch on with a team in Europe, so Recker went to play for the Asheville Altitude in the National Basketball Development League. His teammates included former UW center Paul Grant and former Hawkeye Dean Oliver.

Recker, who averaged 8.9 points a game for Asheville, said four or five NBA teams are interested in having him play for their summer team. But he won't find out where he's going until after the draft.

"I think I've had enough adversity in my life. I hope I get a break here," Recker said. "I've worked hard and I've given it my best effort. Hopefully that will allow me to reach my dream of playing in the NBA."

If not, Recker said he wants to coach. "I don't think I'd ever leave the game of basketball," said Recker, whose college honors also included being an academic All-American.

"I've contemplated business and I've contemplated the Mike Kelley thing and being an announcer, but I love being in the gym," Recker added. "I definitely want to stick around the game."

Right now, he's enjoying sticking around Madison. It will be the site of some very competitive pick-up games this summer, when Recker, Penney and, possibly, Gaines find a gym to play against all the Badgers - including newcomers Sharif Chambliss, Brian Butch and Kammron Taylor, and UW recruit Michael Flowers of Madison La Follette.

"It's impressive what's going on here," marveled Recker. "It's a good place to be."