A Good Show

Zak Showalter (USA Today Sports)

His playing time has decreased since the start of Big Ten play, but freshman guard Zak Showalter has accomplished one of the goals he set out to do this season: make an impact with the time he was given.

MADISON - When the words ‘impact freshman' come up in correlation with the Wisconsin men's basketball team, it's hard not to gravitate immediately to forward Sam Dekker.

Having played in all 24 games, including three starts, Dekker is sixth among conference freshmen and fourth on the team in scoring (8.8 points per game) and has already hit a bevy of big shots that have fans drooling at the possibilities in the years to come.

But while he hasn't made the same type of statistical impact as Dekker, guard Zak Showalter and his contributions have made the type of impact the Wisconsin's coaching staff was hoping for.

"He plays with energy, he's physical, he's got a good feel for the game and he's made some nice plays when he's on the floor," said assistant coach Lamont Paris. "Something happens whenever he goes in. Most times it's been something positive for us."

Showalter's first season at Wisconsin has been an adjustment, going from the star of his high school basketball team to near the bottom of the Badgers' rotation, but it's been a role the aggressive 6-2 in-state guard has embraced.

In addition to averaging 7.9 minutes on the season, Showalter is averaging 2.1 points, 1.2 rebounds with 12 assists and 7 steals for No.20 Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3 Big Ten), which sits a game-and-a-half out of first place in the Big Ten and takes on Minnesota (17-7, 5-6) in Minneapolis Thursday.

"I want to bring some good fire from the bench because we need that sometimes," said Showalter. "That's what Coach Ryan wants out of me. I always just do the best things I can do, play how I know how to play and impact the game in a positive way."

Like many true freshmen, Showalter – who was put on scholarship before the season - debated heavily about whether to spend his first season fighting for minutes at the back end of the rotation or to take a season off and build his body.

On one hand, Showalter was coming off a banner senior season. He earned Wisconsin Basketball Coaches' Association and AP first-team all-state honors after averaging 22 points, 5.5 assists and four rebounds. More importantly, he led Germantown to a perfect 28-0 record and WIAA Division I state championship.

He was so impressive that Dekker made a special trip to watch Showalter play last season. He scored a game-high 19 points in a 20-point blowout.

"I love Zak," said Dekker. "We've actually gotten really close. I think he's probably the best two-guard I have seen in our state. To have four years with him and being my roommate, it's going to be a ton of fun. Once you get to know him, he's one of those guys you just love to be around."

On the other hand, Showalter recognized that junior Josh Gasser was going to start and the depth at the position was noticeable with junior Ben Brust, sophomore Traevon Jackson and redshirt freshman George Marshall all with program experience and competing for minutes.

"I saw what was in front of me, but if someone goes down I would still have to step up and play," said Showalter. "I didn't want to sit out this whole year and wait for someone to get injured."

Showalter unfortunately didn't have to wait long with Gasser tearing his left ACL prior to the start of preseason camp. Getting time to prepare, Showalter appeared in 12 of Wisconsin's 13 nonconference games, averaging three points and 10 minutes off the bench.

Since conference play started, however, Showalter has appeared in only five games for a total of 10 minutes, but at no fault of his own.

"His change in minutes doesn't have anything to do with his play," said Paris. "He's done everything we've asked him to do in the minutes he's out there. We've had some other guys get better, also, which has dropped his minutes compared to what he normally would have. He does what he does well."

With Gasser returning to the lineup next year, Showalter said he's considering redshirting in order to have a better impact down the road. While next season is up for debate, he doesn't deny how much fun he's had this season listening to deafening silence in Bloomington's Assembly Hall or storming the court with his teammates last Saturday.

For him, those are two experiences that push him even harder to be a bigger contributor.

"Those two moments put a cap on the year already," said Showalter. "Hopefully we can have some more moments like that. I can't replace that experience I've got. In the future, I'll be glad I made that decision."

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