Wednesday, April 9, 2008

We'll miss Mike

Yesterday I wrote about how hysteria about Stiemsma and Butch helped lead to my exodus from regular message board reading. Here's another instance that hastened my departure.

If memory serves, Michael Flowers had committed to UW during his sophomore season at Madison LaFollette, and helped lead his team to a state championship in 2002. I remember a particularly spectacular dunk during the state tournament in Madison. But he got hurt while still in high school, and sort of dropped off the recruiting radar.

Which led to a Badgermaniac post titled "Is Michael Flowers a bust?" As ridiculous as the notion was, the sad thing was that a similar thought had crossed my mind. If we were getting four- and five-star guys like Butch and Stiemsma, why weren't all of our recruits of that ranking? Because of the ankle injury he didn't even make all-state as a senior. Would this guy ever contribute anything?

He was a high school junior, for Pete's sake!

Thankfully Michael turned out to be anything but a bust.

We're all well aware of the standard Flowers stories: he's a great defensive player; he is the hero of a little boy who has leukemia, Max Bass (I can't get enough of that story - they had a piece on it on the Big Ten Network the other night and I watched the whole thing with a lump in my throat); he's a terrific athlete who could probably have played football in college. That's all good stuff.

The thing I'd like to discuss is whether Flowers' defensive prowess held back development of his offense. Think about it: his career scoring averages went from 1.2 as a freshman, to 6.1 as a sophomore, to 7.2 as a junior, to 9.6 as a senior. Could it have been more? He was the team's leading scorer four times, including a 23-point game at Penn State. He led the regulars by making 41.2% of his 3-pointers.

His shot was really pretty most of the season, I loved the way he squared up, got his feet set, elevated, and shot a true jump shot, it was beautiful. He was always good moving without the ball, and a more than capable ball handler when the starting point guard was on the bench.

So my questions are: would Flowers have scored at a higher clip if he wasn't busy chasing around the Drew Neitzels of the world, and would he have scored more if he wasn't surrounded by guys like Butch, Hughes, Landry, and Bohannon?

Now that I've typed it, the answers seem to be obviously yes. But if a college athlete of Flowers' caliber couldn't pull it off the top defender/prolific scorer combination, who could?

This is why, when the talk surfaced about Flowers playing football once his basketball eligibility was exhausted, my first reaction was "Why can't he play basketball professionally?" Sure, NBA teams might look at him and pigeonhole him as a defensive specialist, but I'm guessing that given the opportunity to work on his game full-time, he could become a real scoring threat. This isn't to imply that I think Michael Flowers will be an NBA draft pick, but the league is full of guys who weren't drafted and got their chance by creating a niche for themselves. Or, at the very least, if he wants he should get the chance to play internationally.

Whatever Michael does from here on out, it's going to be hard to replace him. I don't see a perimeter defensive stopper on the horizon (maybe it's incoming freshman Robert Wilson?), and I see one less big shot guy who can create his own look as the shot clock winds down. Probably why, in the poll at, Flowers is the overwhelming choice (44%) as the Badgers' 2008 MVP.

Could thing those message board posters weren't right on this one.

No comments: