EVANSTON, Ill. — When word spread to Brevin Pritzl he’d been referred to as “one of those glue guys that help you win” by University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Greg Gard, the junior guard found some humor in the compliment.
“Nobody would have ever called me that growing up,” Pritzl said.
Indeed, Pritzl arrived at UW in 2015 with a reputation as a scorer after producing over 1,700 points during his stellar career at De Pere High School. And though he’s shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end — 20 points vs. Minnesota last season, 17 against Houston Baptist earlier this season — Pritzl has spent the better part of his UW career trying to carve out a niche as a role player.
Recent evidence suggests Pritzl has found something that works, and it includes a little bit of everything. Gard’s comments came following a 64-58 win over Illinois on Monday night in which Pritzl contributed six points and a career-high 10 rebounds in a season-high 31 minutes.
Twice during that game, Pritzl sprawled out on the Kohl Center court in attempt to secure loose balls. He’ll try to do more of the same tonight when the No. 22 Badgers (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) face Northwestern (12-14, 3-12) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Doing the dirty work, whatever that requires, is just fine with Pritzl.
“I just want to play basketball,” he said. “I don’t get to shoot 12 shots a game and be the scorer I was in high school, so you’ve got to adapt. That’s been the biggest thing is adapting to the game, adapting to my role.
“The coaches don’t ask me to go out there and be chucking up shots. It’s, ‘Go be solid, make the right plays, make the extra passes and don’t turn the ball over.’ So that’s what I pride myself on.”
Solid is a word Gard has used to describe Pritzl. Another one: steady.
The return of D’Mitrik Trice to the lineup this season has meant a return to the bench for Pritzl, who started 21 games as a sophomore. But that steadiness Gard likes is a big reason Pritzl, who is shooting a team-best 89.7 percent from the free throw line and has only eight turnovers in 511 minutes this season, is often on the court at the end of close games.
“I think his mindset has been great going into games,” UW assistant coach Dean Oliver said. “He realizes what he can do for us because of how high of an IQ guy he is and he can kind of sniff things out and see things before they happen. He can do a lot more than make 3s.”
Pritzl can do that, too. He’s shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc this season, including 48.4 percent in Big Ten Conference play.
But where Pritzl has made the biggest strides is not getting down on himself when his shot isn’t falling. It wasn’t against Illinois — he was 2 of 7 overall and 1 of 4 from 3-point range — but he found other ways to help.
“It’s always, how can you impact the game?” he said. “Go get rebounds and defend.”
Pritzl is often his own biggest critic. He struggled on the defensive end early in his career, but Gard said Pritzl has gotten much better on that end of the court.
“He’s a better defensive player probably than he gives himself credit for,” Gard said. “I think the one thing that’s jumped out about him, especially this year, is (he’s a) right-place, right-time guy. He’s one of those guys that I don’t find out of position. He gets his doors blown off once in a while with the dribble. But most of the time, he’s right place, right time. He has a nose for the ball and can kind of sniff out what people are doing offensively, too.”
As for the 10 rebounds, which included four on the offensive glass, Pritzl said he should be doing more in that area. He’s averaging 2.5 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game this season.
“I should be getting more than two rebounds in 20 minutes,” he said. “I wouldn’t say one rebound every 10 minutes is pretty good. That’s something you try to build upon is doing the little things even better every game.”
The little things have become the things that matter most to Pritzl, a notable change for a guy who used to put up big-scoring nights on a regular basis in his pre-UW days.
Now, at the end of the day, there are two things on the box score that truly matter to Pritzl: Did the Badgers win and, to a lesser degree, was UW a better team when he was on the floor?
It’s worth noting Pritzl has posted a positive plus-minus figure in seven of the past eight games. UW has outscored its opponents by 86 points during Pritzl’s 172 minutes during that stretch.
Pritzl has come to understand that others — Ethan Happ, Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers — will get most of the shots for UW.
“So how do you react to it?” Pritzl said. “Do you pout and quit on it? Or do you adapt to a different role?”
Pritzl has chosen the latter, and the Badgers are better because of it.
“He’s impacting the game in a lot of ways,” UW assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “He’s had that in him, in spurts, throughout his career. We’re seeing it more and more consistently.”