MADISON - The post-practice demeanor of members on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team symbolize how loose the 2014-15 Badgers truly are. Getting ready for their usual pre-game media session, the featured players decided to get creative.
Senior center Frank Kaminsky did his interviews 10 feet in the air laying on blue gym mats. Senior Josh Gasser talked about the art of not doing team crunches, and Nigel Hayes hammed it up in front of the TV cameras.
Barely audible over laughter from others filled the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion was the bounce of a basketball. While his teammates did their media requirements and left, sophomore guard Zak Showalter continued to build up a sweat. He worked on his jump shots, ball handling and be an effective shooter off the dribble.
The way Showalter attacked practice was the same way he attacks things on the court for No.5 Wisconsin: bubbling over with energy.
“He brings energy, a lot of energy,” said assistant coach Gary Close. “Against Rutgers he had four rebounds in a limited time, a big offensive rebound where he drew a foul and made both free throws. He’s willing to stick his nose in there and try to take charges. I think those two things are good. Hopefully as he gets more and more comfortable he’ll bring more and more things to the table.”
With senior guard Traevon Jackson sidelined with a foot injury, Showalter has taken his increased opportunity and ran with it. Averaging 46.8 percent shooting this season, Showalter has played double-digit minutes in three of the past four games, has seven assists and no turnovers in the five games since Jackson’s injury and is starting to bring a scoring punch.
After attempting only one shot the past two games, Showalter scored a career-high nine points (3-4 FG), while also adding two assists and two steals in 14 minutes in Tuesday’s win over Indiana.
No matter if he gets two minutes or 22 minutes, energy is the role Showalter knew he had to embrace on this team.
“That’s what Coach Ryan wants off his bench,” said Showalter. “Coaches are always saying do something positive in the game when you’re in there. Last year watching, I saw the things that I might lack in and reflected on what I’m capable of doing.”
Redshirting last year due to the amount of guard depth that was in front of him, Showalter learned by watching that his biggest strength off the bench was bringing an extra spark. More often than not, energy from the bench crew triumphs the scoring.
In Wisconsin’s overtime win against Michigan, Showalter didn’t attempt a shot in 10 minutes, but contributed with three rebounds and an assist. After the game, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan simply defined Showalter as making “hustle plays.”
“We’ve got guys who can put the ball in the hole,” said Showalter, referring to UW’s starting lineup. “It helps when you can bring scoring, and I’m still trying to bring that aspect to the court, but sometimes that’s not what you need to do in situations. You’ve got to play how you are feeling that day.”
Through 40 career games, Showalter has not had a game where he felt he’s not given it all on the court. It’s a philosophy that comes from his upbringing and his college experiences.
“I think energy is internal,” said Showalter. “That’s the way I’ve always been since I was little. Putting in that extra work, you have to do all you can to develop those extra skills. It takes work to develop stuff.”
And if the point wasn’t hammered home enough, twice in Showalter’s three seasons has he seen a key player, a guard no less, go down with a serious injury. Three years ago Gasser tore his ACL prior to the season, opening up an opportunity for Showalter to play in 22 games as a true freshman.
This year Wisconsin is making due without Jackson, who broke a bone in his foot January 13 and is expected back around the end of February.
“They’re in a position where they can’t play,” said Showalter. “I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes stuff and it isn’t pretty. I just leave everything I can on the court.”
After playing minimally in his first two seasons, Showalter calls this stretch of games without Jackson on the court and opportunity to solidify his position on the team.
From playing hard, taking care of the ball, playing defense, rebounding and trying to take charges, Showalter has already carved out a good foundation for himself.
“I don't think Zak gets cheated very much,” said Ryan. “You've heard me use that expression. It just means guys that are trying to do something on every possession, always active, but not trying to do so much where they get out of position. But Zak has brought us a lot of energy.”