Brevin Pritzl has his swagger back.
At least, that’s what University of Wisconsin men’s basketball head coach Greg Gard says. The swagger Gard is alluding to isn’t your typical type of swagger, either. Rather, it’s Wisconsin basketball’s definition of swagger.
“I think just over the last six to eight weeks he’s started to get his swagger back,” Gard said of his redshirt freshman guard. “By that I mean the appreciation for things other than just shooting — diving on the floor, taking charges, rebounding, taking care of the ball.”
Gard’s comments came following No. 7 Wisconsin’s 65-60 win over Indiana last Sunday. Pritzl logged a career-high in points (6) and nearly eclipsed his career-high in minutes played (13), which came against Ohio State last month.
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Pritzl’s scoring was not only timely, as his lone field goal — a baseline drive layup — came with Wisconsin leading just 35-33 in the second half, but his defense was also solid for someone who has just 64 minutes of playing time this season (as of Feb. 8), Gard said.
“He just kept getting more and more consistent,” Gard said. “I brought him over [from the scout team] different times during practice and I thought he’s handled it pretty well. [Against Indiana] I just kept liking what I was seeing. He stayed in his lane. He didn’t try to do too much. He didn’t try to make up for lost time.”
That lost time Gard referred to is Pritzl’s broken left foot that hampered him during his true freshman season. Pritzl was cleared for activity early last season and appeared in one game — on Nov. 15 against Siena — but re-broke his foot while practicing before a game at Syracuse. That injury cost him the rest of the season, but Pritzl secured a medical redshirt.
In Pritzl’s mind, it took him a full year to feel normal on the court again.
“Even talking to coach Gard, in December I finally hit my stride in who I was as a basketball player,” Pritzl said. “When I hit that year mark, I got back to who I was. Now I’m just trying to create off of that.”
As a prep standout at De Pere High School in De Pere, Wisconsin, Pritzl was a prolific scorer. He had to learn how to adjust to not always having the ball in his hands once he came to UW.
“I just caught and shot over people,” Pritzl said. “Now, I play with and face a lot better players. You have to use a different system. You gotta play a little different and I gotta learn how to create off of them.”
In high school, Pritzl was never one to sacrifice his body and make the physical play — diving for a loose ball, for example. His high school coach, Brian Winchester, and his dad, Brian, would always get on him for that. But Pritzl’s season and a half with the Badgers has taught him that he needs to do things like that to fit in with the classic Wisconsin style of play.
“You realize you need people like that,” Pritzl said. “You need someone to mix it up. Maybe you don’t always get it … but I gotta make that a habit of my own.”
One practice, Pritzl said, fifth-year senior guard Zak Showalter, who is the embodiment of Gard’s “swagger,” seemed displeased with Pritzl diving on the floor. It’s natural for someone like Showalter who starts and logs 28 minutes a game to not exert maximum effort during practice, and Frank Kaminsky said the same thing of Ethan Happ a few years ago. But for Pritzl, it was his chance to prove his toughness and commitment to seeing the floor.
Upon return from his injury, Pritzl still wasn’t doing enough intangibles to impress the UW coaching staff.
“It’s really taken him a long time to get back into that rhythm,” Gard said. “I think for him, mentally, I think he was probably caught in the trap that shooting is going to get me back faster than anything else and really it had to be those other things first. We know he can score. We know he shoots it really well. But he had to be doing those other things too and that’s what we’ve been seeing.”
With Wisconsin graduating 80 percent of its starting five, Pritzl is in solid position along with fellow reserve guards Jordan Hill and D’Mitrik Trice to earn significant playing time next season, even with the arrival of heralded recruits Kobe King and Brad Davison.
“Always the product of what you’re doing is you want to keep playing — playing at the next level, play the year after, year after,” Pritzl said. “So it’s all about improving. Every day you step out, even in the weight room, and think about what I gotta do to get better and translate that out here out on the court.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Pritzl told The Badger Herald, “I’m obviously not going to be playing minutes that are big.”
The Indiana game disproved that assumption. He’s slowly gaining the trust of his coach and teammates. Obviously, there will be a steep learning curve and bumps in the road ahead.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way,” Pritzl said. “It’s about getting out there, to get an opportunity, try to learn and get better for next year.”
“Or this year, if that’s what we need.”
UW just might need that swagger.