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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

When the Kohl Center lights faded away, Zak Showalter had to adapt to life outside of basketball

Zak Showalter has Cardinal red running in his blood. 

The Germantown, Wisconsin, native grew up watching the Badgers and had dreams of donning the Cardinal and White for the university someday. 

“I just grew up watching Wisconsin hoops,” Showalter said. “If you’re in Wisconsin it’s either you’re in Milwaukee and you watch Marquette or the rest of the state watches Wisconsin.”

Showalter said he grew up a Marquette fan during Dwyane Wade’s stardom and the Golden Eagles’ Final Four run in 2003, but his ties with the Badgers were “too strong.” 

Bo Ryan, a Wisconsin Basketball legend, accepted the job as head coach at UW-Madison in 2001 after stints at UW-Milwaukee and, more famously, at UW-Platteville where he led the Pioneers to four national championships. At UW-Platteville, Showalter’s father, Steve, actually played under Ryan from 1985-’89 and was the leading scorer on the squad during his junior and senior seasons.

The dream to play for the Badgers had always been there for Showalter, but there was one problem — Wisconsin hadn’t recruited him much coming out of high school. The summer before his senior year, he garnered attention from schools across the country, but only at mid-majors. Bo Ryan and the Badgers had called with interest Showalter, but only as a preferred walk-on. 

“I was like, ‘I can either take a gamble on myself and possibly earn some playing time at some point in my career at Wisconsin, or go to a mid major and probably play right away,’” Showalter said. “I was deciding between an $80,000 scholarship and taking a gamble on myself, that’s a tough thing to do.” 

However, the offer to play for his hometown Wisconsin team was too enticing, and Showalter decided to bet on himself.

“I was supposed to come in without a scholarship but luckily, Jared Uthoff transferred during my senior year,” Showalter said. “So Bo called me around May of my senior year of high school and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a scholarship that opened up so when you come in next year, you will have a scholarship,’ so it worked out well.”

Showalter achieved his dream of making it onto Wisconsin’s basketball squad, and didn’t have much else on his mind other than basketball. 

“When I got to school, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than basketball. I was just thinking about playing hoops. At that point I just wanted to play basketball forever,” he said. 

But, while Showalter was a talented and a critical part of the Badger teams he played on, he didn’t have the talent necessary to make it at the next level. He realized early on in his career he may not have that talent, and knew he would have to at least consider getting a job after school.

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“Ninety-nine percent of college basketball players don’t play professionally, so you have to think about what else is out there after sports and after your basketball career is over,” Showalter said. “Early on I had good voices in my ear, saying ‘Hey, you’ve got to look at the big picture.’”

Showalter praised Wisconsin’s academic advisors and the entire academic student services department in the athletic department — specifically Assistant Athletic Director for Career and Leadership Bridget Woodruff and his academic advisor Mary Weaver-Klees. 

From there, he decided to go look into a career in business.

“[I] always thought that if I declared business as my degree, I could do anything,” he shared.

In Showalter's sophomore year he was still undeclared in terms of his major. However, that year, professor Jim Johannes played a major role in Showalter's decision to pursue commercial banking as a career. 

He didn’t usually look forward to going to class with everything else he had going on with basketball, but it was different with Johannes’ class. 

“He just did a great job of discussing commercial banking and the benefits of it and I was just like, ‘Hey, this sounds like a pretty cool career’ and it’s been great ever since,” Showalter said.

Showalter applied for a position at First Business Bank just a few months out of college and has been with the company ever since, but the path wasn’t that direct or clear.

Following an illustrious career at Wisconsin, where he was a part of two Final Four teams, playing in 129 games and starting in 67 games, the Wisconsin native still hoped to be able to pursue a career playing basketball professionally.

During his senior season, Showalter nursed nagging groin injuries throughout the season. After a heartbreaking end to his career — on a leaning three pointer from Chris Chiozza to give Florida the win and Elite Eight berth — Showalter needed to look into what the pain actually was and get it cleared up before he could begin workouts for NBA teams. 

Little did Showalter know just how serious the injury had been, as he had been playing through four sports hernias throughout the season. In May 2017, he had to go through a procedure to fix the hernias, and was out of action for two to three months of key time his peers had to work out and get in top notch shape. 

Showalter had the chance to workout for both the Bucks and Bulls but, without being 100 percent, or even in shape, he couldn’t stick and would have to look overseas. He went through the process of hiring an agent and vetting offers from all over the globe, but without much luck. Showalter only received offers from teams in Ukraine and Uruguay. 

The financial instability that comes with playing overseas and the lack of choice left him with a major decision looming. 

“[My fiancé is] putting her career on hold, so I can chase this dream,” Showalter said. “I don’t really dream of being in Ukraine. There was a dream of playing basketball, but I also felt like I reached that dream.”

Showalter had to reflect on what his goals were playing basketball, and if he had already achieved them.

“I think my dream was to play at Wisconsin. I don’t think I really dreamed of going into some other country across the world and doing that for ten months out of the year so I just reflected on, ‘is this what I want to do, or do I want to use my career and start a family?’”

The Wisconsin native ended up choosing the latter.

He joined First Business Bank back in late 2017 as a credit analyst and has been with them ever since. With neither of his parents or younger brother more than a few hours away in Wisconsin, and the foundation of a family with his wife, Showalter continues to call Madison home.

“We’ve got two dogs and that’s what I can call a family. Just start different things in Madison. I love Madison,” Showalter said.

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