Zak Showalter: The life of a redshirt

MADISON, Wis. - Walk-on guard Zak Showalter expected the 2012-13 season to be the one he called his redshirt year - one used on working on skills he felt needed improvement.
But one Josh Gasser torn ACL later and Showalter was ushered on to the team's everyday roster. He wound up playing in 22 games and averaging 1.7 points and 1.0 rebounds per game.
With "Showy" - the nickname Showalter's coaches and teammates call him by - playing a full season, it appeared that redshirting was no longer in the cards. Yet this season, the former in-state standout from Germantown found himself in the midst of a crowded, talented and experienced Badger backcourt. After considering his options, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound guard ultimately decided upon the idea of redshirting his second year.
"First, just looking at playing time now and how it would be compared to the future," Showalter said of his reasoning behind the decision. "I just thought that the future would look brighter than what the situation looked like now."
With Gasser, a redshirt junior, Traevon Jackson, a junior, Ben Brust, a senior, and true freshman Bronson Koenig expected to get the bulk of the playing time, the opportunity to see minutes in the backcourt was a long shot. That isn't even including redshirt sophomore guard George Marshall, who was on the Wisconsin roster at the beginning of the season but after playing time became an issue, elected to transfer.
The thought of removing his redshirt once the news of Marshall's transfer broke never once crossed Showalter's mind.
"I don't think it's worth it now after already sitting out 11 games," he said. "I don't think it would be worth it for me to come back now."
The purpose of a redshirt year is to give a player time to hone in on refining certain areas of his skill-set to make his overall game better. Showalter believes that working on strong ball handling and developing a consistent shot - "I want to make 40 percent of my threes next year," he said - are the main areas of focus for him between now and next season.
Although he has yet to be on the active roster at the same time as Showalter, Gasser still recognizes the talent and ability he brings to the table.
"He's obviously a really talented player and he works extremely hard," Gasser said of Showalter. "He's one of those tough kids who will take charges, dive on the floor, get loose balls, so it's just about developing the other stuff in his game.
"You know what you're going to get from him every night," Gasser continued, "but if he can make his threes a bit more consistently, get better in the post and with his ball-handling, then he'll be an even better player."
While the year is dedicated to working on individual skills, another aspect of being a redshirt is playing a vital role on the scout team. Every day, every practice, Showalter - and the team's three other redshirts in Riley Dearring, Aaron Moesch, and Jordan Smith - takes on a personality of a different player. One day he's a sharp-shooter, the next he's a stout defender; one day he's a guard who plays solely in the post, the next he's heavily involved in pick-and-rolls.
At first glance, having to adapt to different styles of play could get in the way of a player's training to achieve their own personal goals, but it usually turns out just the opposite.
"I think it can make you a better player because you're doing some things that maybe you wouldn't be doing if you weren't in the top eight and playing regularly," assistant coach Gary Close said of the struggle for Showalter between imitating opposing players and refining his own game."
What's more is that Showalter can play different positions and defend different players without there being too much pressure on him to perform.
"He's also doing things that the scout coach is telling him to do like, 'I want you to shoot this three, I want you to come off that screen and fire it and I don't care if it's stuff that you may not be able to do.' Hopefully it adds some things to his game," Close added. "If he screws up, he screws up. It's not that big of a deal."
For Showalter's part, it isn't about a lack of confidence. It's simply about the realities of this season. "[Last year] I was trying to get on to that first team but now there's no chance of that," Showalter said. "I definitely am a fan and I try to pump up my teammates and help us do whatever it is we have to get the win. I'm not used to it at all, but I'm trying to do as much as I can to be a presence on this team. I'm hanging in there."
Having such a long-term perspective and following such a well-developed strategy is rare for a 19-year-old who Close describes as a player who, "works so hard that it's impossible for him not to improve."
What's clear is that Showalter has no regrets.
"Oh of course [it was tough]," Showalter said of his decision to redshirt. "Last year playing and now this year sitting is not fun, but it will pay off in the end."
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