Semi-legendary Zak Showalter story still being written

From helping Germantown basketball become a dynasty to having his shining moment in the NCAA Tournament at Wisconsin, Zak Showalter's basketball journey has been a wild ride.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
Share This Story

Soon-to-be-University of Wisconsin graduate and Badgers basketball folk hero Zak Showalter watched his father, Steve, write his story in large bursts.

Steve was the early protege of Wisconsin coaching giant Bo Ryan when Ryan was at Platteville, won national 3-on-3 competitions and was said to have averaged 50 points a game in a league in Ireland. Just for good measure, he coached Zak and his brother Jake as the Germantown boys basketball team won three WIAA state titles in a row from 2012-14.

Zak, however, is writing his story in smaller, but still memorable and influential bursts. Through the hundreds and hundreds of floor burns he's accumulated in his five years at Wisconsin, through the scores of charges he's taken along the way and through the relentless effort that he has always shown when put on the floor.

To no one's surprise, he was named to the Big 10's All-Defensive team this season.

He wisely took a redshirt year three years ago when he knew his playing time would be limited.

"It was one of the best decisions I've ever made," he said. "Though very tough at the time, not being able to help the team and not knowing whether we would be back on the national stage  again."

The Badgers were coming off their first of back-to-back Final Four berths, the first of which was his redshirt year.

"Getting back to that Final Four made that decision completely worth it," he said.

A grinder

Zak subsequently improved his level of play in almost every aspect, and at the end of his five years with the program, his tenacity has earned him spots on radio talk shows, has made he and Steve subjects of a Sports Illustrated feature and, just for good measure, Zak's also best buds with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Zak is also no one-trick pony. He was Wisconsin's student/athlete of the year in 2016 as elected by the student body and he's made All-Academic Big Ten. He hopes to graduate on May 13 with a 4.0 grade point average while completing a double major in finance and risk management.

"Getting that award (the student/athlete of the year) was pretty cool," said Zak. "I decided early on that I had to take care of both sides of the equation (academics and athletics) when I got here. It's a special situation I'm in, and I knew either could open doors for me so I had to make sure I stayed on top of both of them."

The athletic part of it became a little easier, and in the rich, creamy frosting of his Wisconsin career, he also made CBS's "One Shining Moment" tribute shown following North Carolina's victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA Division I title game.

No one who's ever known this alleged "role player" doubted that he could put a team on his back when he absolutely needed to.

RELATED:Zak Showalter savoring fifth year with UW

RELATED:Showalter family celebrates senior day in style

RELATED:Zak Showalter discusses the controversial 2011 Super Tuesday game

ARCHIVES:Final Four experience memorable for Showalter family

One Shining Moment

His Wisconsin team was in dire straights against Florida at the end of regulation in an NCAA regional-semifinal game, with forward Vitto Brown fouled out and star guard Bronson Koenig hobbled by a leg injury. Time was running down, and the Badgers were down by 3 points.

Zak ducked his head, brought the ball to the left side of the 3-point arc and swished a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.

With the crowd roaring in his ear, the showman in him came out. Before a large national audience, he did Rodgers' trademark "belt" maneuver with a big grin on his face.

Rodgers and Wisconsin fans all over the nation roared their approval.

A few hours after the Badgers' crushing loss in overtime on a similar shot, Zak had the class and dignity to go on Twitter and say "I love you Wisconsin, thank you so much for everything."

The message was re-tweeted more than 23,000 times.

It was like the now-retired Ryan said in the SI article: "The Showalters are winners."

"That final play was just part of all of us (on the team) not giving in, of still trying to win the game," said Zak. "Just try to get to the next game. Keep pushing for the next 15 minutes."

As for the shot itself?

"It was just the sum of thousands and thousands of repetitions I've put in," he said. "It was just instinct. I had an opportunity to make a play. I just needed not to overthink it.

"My 'One Shining Moment.'"

ARCHIVES:Zak Showalter, our 2012 Player of the Year, led Germantown to its first state title

ARCHIVES:As a high school senior, Zak Showalter was part of Final Four festitivies

ARCHIVES:Germantown junior Zak Showalter an easy choice for 2011 All-Suburban Player of the Year

ARCHIVES:Zak Showalter's rise began as a high school sophomore at Germantown

Badger for life

He finished his career with 678 points (5.3 per game), 309 rebounds, 169 assists and 110 steals for his career, far from standout numbers at Wisconsin. But like he was at Germantown, he was indeed a winner all the way. The mighty four-man senior class that included Koenig, Brown and Nigel Hayes recorded an amazing 115 wins in their four years.

Overall, in the five years Showalter was with the program, the Badgers made the Sweet 16 four times and earned two Final Four berths, including that still-heartbreaking loss to Duke in the final two years ago.

"To be considered a team leader, to be looked up to like that was just awesome," Zak said. "Because when I was coming up, I always looked up to people like Josh (Gasser),

Trey (Traevon Jackson) and Frank (Kaminsky). I just wanted to continue to elevate the program."

It's not bad for someone who came out of Germantown with his choice of prime mid-majors where he could have been a star. But he wanted to go to Wisconsin and wanted to be coached by Ryan, just like his father was. North Dakota State, UW-Milwaukee and Drake were all in the picture at one time.

"But nothing ever felt completely right," he said, "so when Wisconsin called (with just a walk-on offer), all the chips went that way.

"And though it was a tough transition, I always kept a good attitude because I knew that the program rewarded hard work and patience. Dad always reminded me, that I had it easier with Ryan as opposed to him 30 years ago when Ryan had a full head of hair (laughs)."

He can joke about his family because it has always been so close to him throughout his five years at Wisconsin.

"My mom and grandparents made almost every one of the (home) games, and dad was there, too, making some long trips to some away games, too," said Zak. "We had so many games on TV that when he had to miss some because he was coaching his own team, he could still record and watch them.

"It's crazy to think that I've just completed my fifth year here. It never really sank in until Senior Day. Now, here we are, with my college career over."

What comes next

But the story is still being written. He is going to sign with an agent soon, as is former Germantown teammate and soon-to-be Marquette graduate Luke Fischer. Zak will likely play in summer leagues in either Orlando or Las Vegas and then hopefully, like his father, play overseas and continue to build on the legend.

He added a future career as a coach (again, like his dad) or as a financial adviser is not out of the question.

Keeping options open, as he likes to say.

Meanwhile, he'll look back on this chapter of his story and smile.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams," he said. "I could see myself coming this far (being in this position as a player), but for the team to have four Sweet 16s and two Final Fours is just very, very special. To be part of it all was just pretty amazing."

Share This Story