Germantown - The endless updowns on the lengthy Al McGuire Center court on the Marquette University campus were not exactly clearing the mind of Germantown's two-time NOW All-Suburban Boys Basketball Player of the Year Zak Showalter on the afternoon of March 14, two days before the Warhawks' WIAA state semifinal with defending champion Madison Memorial.
He was slightly annoyed at his dad, Germantown coach and NOW All-Suburban co-Coach of the Year Steve Showalter, with whom he had one of their occasional "disagreements" just moments before. It's something that had occurred frequently over the last four years the two had worked closely together in bringing the Warhawks to the pinnacle of Wisconsin prep basketball.
At one point, Steve could be heard calling out to Zak:"Don't get mad at me, get mad at the teammate who missed the pass!" Junior NOW All-Suburban center Luke Fischer knew what would happen next as the outcome of these disagreements never really varied ("It is his team, he's the coach," Zak admitted. "I'm just a player.").
But Zak was a tri-captain and he had some rights and opinions, but just because he could express those opinions didn't mean there weren't consequences for giving voice to them.
"You could tell when they were going to have a 'father-son'moment," Fischer said. "They had their great ones like the hugs at the state championship (following the 72-69 victory over Milwaukee King on March 17) and then they had moments like at that practice, when Zak talks back and he knows he's the only one who can get away with it.
"But we also all knew that the whole team was going to get punished for it." Pushing his teammates Zak, however, who is probably a few cuts too close to his father in terms of personality, will and drive for both's liking, had a method to his madness that March 14 day. The shooting drills, the fast-break drills, the free throws after intense effort (to simulate game conditions) were all going smoothly, too smoothly, in his mind.
In his heart, there wasn't enough passion or intensity given what was at stake just two days later when Germantown would hit the Kohl Center courts with the idea of fulfilling their season-long destiny of claiming a first-ever state championship. Him giving voice to that thought led to the disagreement with his father and coach.
"I just didn't feel we were practicing well," Zak said. "I didn't like the way we looked.
Here we were going to be playing Memorial (in the semifinal) in just two days and we just weren't doing as well as we could have.
"I was frustrated we weren't picking it up. I wanted us to get going." So that led to Steve assigning the up-downs about an hour-and-a-half into the practice and they went on and on.
They went on quietly for about 15 minutes or so and it was then that Zak popped off.
"I can't repeat exactly what I said," said Zak weeks later with a laugh.
Nothing really changed after his outburst, the up-downs continued for a few more minutes, and then practice resumed.
A few days later, the Warhawks blasted Memorial in the semifinal and then edged King in a great state final to fulfill their destiny.
"We were talking (as a coaching staff after the state tournament) and we were wondering if there was really a turning point, somewhere when we really turned the corner," Steve said, "and we agreed it was there. Zak had a few choice words (for me) and then we ran and then he ran harder and harder.
"Initially we thought it was him feeling sorry for himself and being mad at me, but it was really him being frustrated with his teammates and their effort, but he took the blame for that and so took the pressure off them.
"He, in essence, had called them out and it worked. When he got done (running), I think he had the team's ear at that point. He had the team." Meaning, he was going to put them on his back and lead them to this state championship and they had better be ready to follow.
It turned out that they were.
"I never really had to do anything like that before," Zak said, "something when we really didn't seem ready to play.
I just wanted them to know it was unacceptable (the practice effort). ... We (as a team) talked awhile afterward. We talked a ton away and I think it paid off for us." And he had agreement from teammates on that point.
"You didn't think it would help us," said Fischer of the running and the disagreements, "and sometimes you got sick of them. Then Zak starts talking (during the up-downs). Coach was ready to start practice again at that point but Zak basically said 'No, we haven't been punished enough yet.' "And I understood that at the time. There were no hard feeling about it and it all paid off in the end." Like father, like son It also showed how deep the drive to succeed lurks inside both the father and the son.
When asked how closely Zak resembles himself when he was a hard-charging prep baller at Baraboo, Steve said without irony: "It's almost frightening.
There's way too much of myself out there. In fact, I was even more like that in some cases. In some places of life that can serve you well and in others it comes back to bite you.
"He's just very stubborn, driven and motivated." And of those "moments" with his dad in practice, which are now through and will never come back again, Zak said:"We're both stubborn, but then I think about it (whatever the disagreement of the day was about) the rest of the night, sleep on it and then it's a new day." Then he goes and explains how close his dad is to the truth about him and about how their internal resemblance is almost uncanny.
"It's waking up every day in summer at 6 a.m., working out for a couple of hours and then going to play (summer league ball)," Zak said, "so anytime I have a rocky day (as he competes for the University of Wisconsin the next four years), I can just look at that photo (the team championship picture taken in Madison the night of March 17) and it'll bring back good memories." For his father, too.
"He knew he was the one who had to lead his team on the court," Steve said, "and in doing so he wrested some control away from me. I kept most of it, but the kids respected him. They knew he had their backs. They needed him to step forward and he did." And however pragmatic Zak is, he does have a sentimental side. Ask him about the practice jersey that he (as well as the rest of the team) had to turn back in to his father, the coach, early in the afternoon of the state final on March 17.
"That was really sad," Zak said, "because I realized I would never be wearing that again. ... But I'll find a way to get it back (laughs). Dad may still have it around the house somewhere."