When the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball staff began asking the team’s seniors to start filming their videos for Senior Day, it started to hit Zak Showalter.
Showalter, a fifth-year senior, and fellow seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown have two remaining regular season games, the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament left in their careers. With that, they are guaranteed just four more games.
“I was like ‘Shoot,’” Showalter said. “I gotta start leaving it all out there, not that I don’t normally do. I know that in the back of my mind I’ve only got a couple more opportunities to do this.”
Wisconsin fans know Showalter never leaves anything on the court. After a recent game, he said, “I’m not a very passive player.”
It was quite an understatement.
Showalter, who redshirted his first year on campus, was paired in his recruiting class with Sam Dekker. Dekker, now a contributor with the Houston Rockets, departed for the NBA a year early. But by that point, Showalter had already been adopted by the 2013 recruiting class.
“Sam was my partner basically,” Showalter said. “I feel like that group has really taken me in as part of their class.”
Showalter’s trademark as a Badger has been his defensive play, highlighted by aggressiveness and, at times, shut-down capability. It’s no secret Showalter’s assignment nearly every time he takes the floor is to slow down the opposing team’s top perimeter scorer.
It’s a daunting task, Showalter says, but it’s his major contribution to the team.
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“I’ve done this for two years now,” Showalter said. “I watched Josh [Gasser] do it for so long, and I’ve been through it. That’s what it takes to get wins in this conference. You got to shut guys down.”
Showalter meets the chore of facing some of the conference’s —and come tournament time, the nation’s — best scorers with preparedness. He relies on an app called Synergy that allows him to simply type in the name of any player, and it cues up every play he is a part of. The situations are broken down into categories, such as missed jump shots or scoring plays.
“I can click on pull-up jumpers that he scored on, or ball screens that he scored off of,” Showalter said. “I ususally do that just to study guys’ tendencies, the stuff that I’m looking for when I’m guarding them.”
Showalter said he watches his assignment’s most recent games to understand flow of how they’re playing. He jots his notes down mentally so his instincts can take over in game situations.
The effort Showalter exerts on the defensive side of the court sometimes causes him to not be as active as he want when UW has the ball.
“I don’t want to, but there’s times when I, especially when I go back and watch the games and I catch myself, if I chased through like four screens on the [defensive] possession, I’ll come back and be a little lazier than I’d like to be. I don’t want to sacrifice offense,” Showalter said. “I think I’ve been doing a better job recently of being more aggressive on both ends of the court.”
To combat this, Showalter said he makes sure he gets a good sweat going when he’s shooting in the gym by not standing still and constantly moving. It’s an example of the hard work coaches and teammates admire.
“He’s always given the ultimate effort,” associate head coach Lamont Paris said.
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Like Showalter mentioned, Paris saw Showalter’s tutelage under Gasser helped make the former the defender he is today.
“Just seeing how tough Josh was, and how determined he was, how much it didn’t matter if the other guy was quicker or taller or more athletic or naturally so gifted offensively, he found a way to slow him down just the right amount, or even more than that,” Paris said. “I think that was the biggest part probably of his development of a good defender.”
They are still not the same person, Paris said. Showalter brings his own style to defense.
“He brings his own things to it,” Paris said. “He’s a little more aggressive. He’ll gamble a little more than Josh, it’s paid off at times, big time.”
Those times include a series of steals against North Carolina in the 2015 Sweet 16 and taking a charge against Xavier last season to set up Koenig’s memorable game-winner.
Taking a charge like that, Paris said, requires instantaneous decision-making skills, almost like a quarterback making a read against coverage.
“He had anticipated that he would make that move, and he was right,” Paris said.
The Badgers can use plays like those come March.