Flowers beginning to bloom

Freshman guard meticulously striving for improvement

Michael Flowers has no idea how many jump shots he hoists when he stays after practice for additional work with University of Wisconsin men's basketball assistant coach Gary Close. Through a wealth of attempts, however, Flowers is striving to find a rhythm for his shot.

"Coach Close tells me to always remember how you shot the last shot because if it goes in you want to repeat that and repeat that; that is the only way you learn is through repetition," Flowers said.

It is just one facet of his game Flowers is working diligently to improve.

As Flowers' career progresses, he will need to assume a more prominent role, but this year the 6-foot-2 true freshman guard is UW's fourth or fifth player off the bench. He has played in 12 of 15 games this season, averaging 8.4 minutes and 1.5 points per game.

"I'm just trying to do what I'm capable of doing, playing within the team rules, the team offense, the team defense," Flowers said.

Flowers, a Madison La Follette graduate, is reaping the rewards of his decision to play this season rather than taking a redshirt. He is the Badgers' No. 4 guard and he has played double-digit minutes in six games this season, including Big Ten contests with Indiana and Ohio State.

UW's home win over the Buckeyes Jan. 11 was Flowers' best performance of the year. He played 11 minutes in that game, including seven of the last eight-and-a-half minutes in the first half. When he entered the game UW trailed 20-15. When his tip-in of Sharif Chambliss' missed 3-pointer beat the halftime buzzer, the Badgers' led 31-26.

"We practice last-second shots and stuff like that in practice," Flowers said. "‘Do' [Alando Tucker] actually got a couple of tip-ins at the buzzer like that so, you know, going off of what I saw in practice I thought, ‘hey, why not, maybe I'd get a tip-in.' That was kind of cool."

Flowers' scoring against Ohio State was limited to those two points but he factored positively in the rally in other ways. He played tough defense and made two particularly noteworthy plays, hustling back in transition to knock a pass out of bounds and block a shot.

By and large this season, Flowers has earned his minutes with defense and hustle.

"He's got a chance to be a great defensive guard because he gets down low, he's got good feet. He's tough," Close said.

Flowers is already a strong defender. He plays good positional defense and is very active; he has eight steals in just 101 minutes this season.

Meanwhile, Flowers' court awareness, ball handling and shooting continue to improve through practice routines such as the extra shooting work with Close.

"There are a few little subtle things we're working on," Close said. "Michael was a pretty good shooter coming in. To his credit, he has really worked hard at improving it."

Flowers' shooting line this season is a pedestrian 6 of 18 but that is on a mere 1.5 shots per game. The repetitions necessary for in-game improvement are coming in practice.

"Shooting is a repetitive skill," Close said. "The more you do it the more you can get your technique down to where you're consistent with it. I think volume is the key."

Flowers wants to be an offensive threat when he steps on the court.

"Every shot you take as a game winner so that when it does come you are more comfortable taking the shot," Flowers said.

For the time being, Flowers is honing his skills primarily on the Badgers' scout team, though he does receive some scrimmage reps with the top eight.

"He's really made some good strides," Close said. "He's done a great job on the scout team emulating players."

"I think my defensive presence is getting better and I'm taking steps," Flowers said. "On the offensive end of the court I think I'm becoming a better leader. I think I'm gaining the team's trust and confidence out there. I'm taking care of the ball a lot better than I had been in the beginning of the season."

The Badgers need a relatively quick progression from Flowers. Wisconsin has only three scholarship guards in the fold for next season: Flowers, sophomore Kammron Taylor, and Maywood, Ill. (Proviso East High School) product Phillip Perry, a prep senior who signed a letter of intent in November. UW is expected to try to add another guard during the spring signing period but recruiting analysts feel there are few viable options.

Freshman DeAaron Williams, who is redshirting this season, and another recruit, Sioux Falls, S.D. product Joe Krabbenhoft, could play guard. Any way the situation is analyzed, though, Flowers will need to carry a significant load next year.

Flowers, however, is focused on the present.

"That's real far ahead," he said. "I just try to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time because players practice how they play and I go out there and I practice real hard, 100 percent and that's how I play."

Playing in spots as a reserve guard this season, Flowers hopes to steadily earn more consistent playing time.

"I've built a base and now I know what coach expects me to do for him," Flowers said. "Now I have to do that and exceed their expectations."

As the Big Ten season progresses, Flowers will look to take advantage of the opportunities he receives to prove himself on the court.

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