The Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is off to a strong 10-1 start this season, and has relied heavily on a large veteran presence with four returning starters to lead the way. The Badgers bench has been strong, as well, and the team has found a spark from redshirt sophomore Zak Showalter.
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His statistics might not be overly impressive on the surface – 3.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, and .3 assists in 7.7 minutes per game – but for the ninth player off of the bench, he’s certainly making an impact on this year’s team.
After playing in 22 games – averaging 6.7 minutes per outing – as a true freshman during the 2012-13 season, the Germantown, Wis., native redshirted last year, but returns as Wisconsin’s fourth guard, playing behind starters Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser, and coming off of the bench after Bronson Koenig.
The redshirt season came a year later than most would have expected, but a Josh Gasser ACL tear limited Wisconsin’s guard depth in 12-13, and Showalter was pressed into action as a true freshman.
Showalter then redshirted last season, and the experience seems to have paid off, as he looks more confident and explosive as a redshirt sophomore than as a true freshman two years ago.
He’s been scratching and clawing for some minutes, and he knows there are some good things coming. – Head Coach Bo Ryan
That might be a result of how he spent that redshirt season, emulating the top players from other programs on the scout team in practice.
Showalter played a season-high 14 minutes against Milwaukee Dec. 10, scoring 6 points and adding 2 rebounds and a block that fired up the entire team.
It wasn’t Showalter’s first high energy play of the season and it likely won’t be his last. He earned a spot in the Sports Center Top 10 with this put-back slam against UAB in the Battle For Atlantis Tournament earlier this season in the Bahamas.
It’s plays like those that are making it easy for head coach Bo Ryan to go deep in the bench this season. Following the Wisconsin victory over Nicholls State Saturday, Ryan had nothing but positives to say about Showalter.
"“Teammates love Zak Showalter. He’s here for a reason. He’s a good player and not just a hustle guy. He’s been scratching and clawing for some minutes, and he knows there are some good things coming. That’s what makes doing this so much fun. You get good, hardworking young men who don’t expect to have things handed to them and they know that they’ve got to earn it. Those kind of guys are always fun to coach.”"
Including the Nicholls State game, Schowalter has played at least 10 minutes in five games this season. Many of those minutes have come at the end of the first half, when Showalter adds some fresh legs before the halftime break.
He’s been aggressive around the rim, as well, earning 15 free throws (hitting 13) so far this year.
With the conference season fast approaching, Showalter’s minutes will likely go down, but he’s made the most of his playing time so far this season, and the experience will be valuable come Big Ten and NCAA Tournament time.
Most importantly, he’s giving Bo Ryan no reason to question putting him in the game in a big moment, and he’s putting together the start of a successful career as a Badger.
Statistics courtesy ESPN.com.