"I definitely think that rotation I didn't want to mess with," said Showalter.
Throw in the fact that UW had George Marshall and incoming freshman Bronson Koenig and there weren't a lot of available minutes for the guards in Bo Ryan's program. So Showalter decided to take his redshirt season, thinking he'd be able to contribute more in three years than this season.
Showalter likely could have seen minutes in the nonconference season, after Marshall transferred to South Dakota State, but those minutes have gone to Koenig, who is starting to emerge as UW's point guard of the future.
"The rotation changed throughout the year, so I think some minutes opened up," said Showalter. "I just have to realize in the end that it'll be worth it. I'm improving every day, which is also what I wanted to get a lot better at. My shot is getting a lot better and offensive skills are feeling a lot better. I have gotten a lot of it so far."
Showalter is part of a four-man group who has taken the year off to improve. Like Showalter, junior walk-on Jordan Smith took his redshirt after seeing the log jam at guard, while freshmen Riley Dearring and Aaron Moesch have spent the offseason getting stronger in the weight room and more confident in their surroundings.
"I think they've understood the level of competition and how you have you to work every single day," said associate head coach Greg Gard of UW's redshirts. "That's the first thing you have to accept and understand as they come into college that's it's an everyday thing, not just a game night thing. In high schools they can coast during practices and show up on games … Understanding how important every possession is at the college is something they are growing through.
"There's not a magic wand that we wave. It's a process that they go through … Usually you see the biggest jump from year one to year two because they understand that and have gone through it for a year."
The redshirt role has worked in reverse for Showalter, who played in 22 games and averaged of 1.7 points and one rebound per game. He posted career highs in minutes (23), points (8), rebounds (4) and assists (3) vs. Green Bay on Dec.12, but was rarely used after that once UW transitioned into conference play, playing in only 10 games and never more than four minutes.
And while fans haven't seen Showalter on the court, he's seen the big jump in confidence during year two.
"Last year I was trying to feel everything out and didn't go into every practice, or game, trusting my skills as much as I do now," said Showalter. "I think that will definitely pay off next year and just maturing as a player."
One of the main contributors on Wisconsin's scout team, the coaching staff has rotated Showalter between both guard positions, forcing him to have to handle the ball, make split decisions and work off screens. Going against a defense that has ranked among the nation's top 10 in nine of the last 11 years, the starters have helped Showalter's shooting and his decision making.
"(Zak) still had that competitive drive that he always has, trying to find ways to beat you in a drill or a possession," said Gard, noting that UW is doing the same with Jordan Hill. "Not that they'll play point guard down the road for us, but they've been put in situations where they have to make decisions, improve their ball handling and improve their shooting. Hopefully that will pay dividends down the road."
Earned Wisconsin Basketball Coaches' Association and AP first-team all-state honors during his senior season after averaging 22 points, 5.5 assists and four rebounds, Showalter led Germantown (WI) to a perfect 28-0 record and WIAA Division I state championship.
That alone has been a massive motivator for Showalter to get back on the court.
"It's not easy (sitting)," said Showalter. "It was tougher when we were losing because I couldn't get in there and contribute. It's definitely easier now that we're winning. It's never fun watching a basketball game when you've been playing your role. I'm getting used to it, but I am ready to play."