Flowers making presence felt

Freshman guard has become one of the Badgers' most trusted reserves

Last year Michael Flowers was frustrated. His senior year at Madison La Follette High School was not supposed to be so wrought with turmoil. The athletic guard, a standout who had won a state championship as a sophomore, just wanted to play the game he loved.

But Flowers suffered the first serious injury of his basketball-filled life the spring before his senior year at La Follette, tearing tendons in his left ankle during an AAU game. The injury required surgery and lots of rest, more rest that Flowers could stomach. He missed most of the season and when he could play he was often restricted to a quarter or two of playing time.

"I only played, like, four or five full games and that was towards the tournament time," Flowers said. "That hurt me because I just think that my team needed me. When they could count on me, I couldn't be there for them. Me not being on the court, I didn't know what to do with myself. It was just something I wasn't used to."

This season, Flowers' first with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball program, has been far more satisfying. Flowers is healthy and he has quickly developed from a sparsely used backup into one of the Badgers' most trusted reserves.

Flowers, a 6-foot-2 guard, has played double-digit minutes in four of UW's past five games, including road games at Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State.

What is striking is Flowers' confidence. From the moment he stepped foot in a Badger practice there as no backing down, no freshman jitters. And despite venturing into places like Assembly Hall and the Breslin Center – known as two of the toughest venues in the country – for the first time, Flowers has, if anything, grown more confident.

"Coach calls your name and tells you to get in there, you know right away that he has confidence in you and that confidence for a player goes a long ways," Flowers said.

"He's played in some tough situations in high school," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "He's played in the summers in some tough environments and…through practice here he's getting some pretty good runs."

Flowers scored six points in 18 minutes at MSU and five points in 15 minutes at OSU, his most productive offensive outings of the season. But his performance in UW's 62-60 win over Indiana may have been his strongest yet. He played 15 minutes and took his turn helping the Badgers lock down on IU guard Bracey Wright, holding him to 13 points.

"When he's gotten in he's made the most of his time," senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "It's good to see. Looking down the stretch, we are definitely going to need that energy and need what he brings to the table."

Flowers has never scored more than six points in a game this season, but he has made his presence felt with intense, fundamentally sound defense, while providing a steady hand at point guard in backing up Sharif Chambliss and Kammron Taylor.

"He's just a fierce competitor and I think that's what's got him on the floor," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "It's just that every time he steps on the floor he makes something positive happen. Whether it's offensively, defensively, tipping in a rebound, grabbing a loose ball, trying to take a charge. He just makes plays."

Ryan cautioned that while Flowers is playing well, his development may not always follow a linear progression.

"It's the evolution of the mind and body," Ryan said. "It's a development, a maturation that takes place. Sometimes it will be there, sometimes it won't."

"The coach is always talking about listening and stick to the rules," Flowers said. "I picked that up, ‘OK, if I listen and I do the things he tells me to do that he's going to like that and he's going to respect that about me.'"

Flowers has worked diligently this year to hone his substantial skills at the defensive end, while striving for improvement with his shooting and ball handling. While he has played point guard in practice throughout the season, primarily with the scout team, he has recently taken on that role more frequently in games and has shown poise while running the Badgers' offense.

"I've always loved the way he plays," Hanson said. "He's just got a nose for the ball and real fundamental. Great teammate to have."

With Hanson's and Chambliss' careers winding down, Flowers will likely have a strong shot at starting next season and could end up primarily playing point guard.

"I can't even talk about the future," Flowers said. "But right now when I get in there and I run the point I'm just trying to relieve Sharif or Kam because I know they are out there and they are out there giving 110 percent. So I'm out there just trying to get the ball moved. Just trying to get everybody into the offense."

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