The flight lasted 1 hour, 47 minutes, and Brevin Pritzl spent nearly every second of it typing on his smartphone.
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team was returning home following a 68-63 loss at Maryland on Feb. 4. Pritzl had played only six minutes total, and not at all in the second half following a turnover right before halftime that allowed the Terrapins to build a 10-point lead.
This came three days after the sophomore guard went 0 of 11 from the field in a 60-52 home loss to Northwestern. Toss in the stretch run of a loss to Nebraska on Jan. 29 and the first half of the Maryland game, and Pritzl had missed 15 consecutive shots, including 12 in a row from 3-point range.
“It was brutal,” Pritzl said recently. “It was tough to watch. It was tough to play.”
Pritzl has snapped out of his funk and is playing well as UW reaches the postseason. The Badgers (14-17) will get another shot at Maryland (19-12) on Thursday in a Big Ten tournament game at Madison Square Garden in New York.
UW is 4-2 since its loss to the Terrapins on Super Bowl Sunday. Pritzl averaged 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 50 percent (16 of 32) from 3-point range and 94.1 percent (16 of 17) from the free throw line during that stretch.
Pritzl is happier and playing loose. He joked he’s back to being “High School Brevin,” though he doesn’t have the green light he had while scoring 1,720 points during his prep career at De Pere.
“For the most part,” Pritzl said, “I’m just playing more confidently and without doubt.”
Pritzl has a tendency to internalize his feelings, and he admits all the negativity got bottled up inside of him for weeks and finally came pouring out that night of the Maryland loss earlier this month.
It had to get out somehow, so Pritzl sat on UW’s charter flight and typed out his thoughts while the Boeing 737-800 operated by Miami Air International made its way back to Dane County Regional Airport.
He typed. And typed. And typed.
By the time he was finished, Pritzl had covered a lot of ground in a 10-page document. He wrote about how he was playing passive. About accepting his role on the team. About what he had done wrong and what he could do better.
Essentially, it was one long venting session he shared with three people: his father, his brother and his girlfriend.
Pritzl checks in with his brother, Brandon, on almost a daily basis. Brandon Pritzl, who played at Hillsdale College and is now an assistant coach at the Division II program in Michigan, told his younger brother that he’d seen a lot of the things that Brevin was putting into words.
“It was just some deep reflections about where he was at, what he needed to do differently,” Brian Pritzl said of his son’s document. “It was just a very mature look at himself and what he needed to do to contribute within the team. It was quite thoughtful.”
It was also necessary, Brian said, for his son to get stuff off his chest.
“Brevin has a tendency to have the highs and the lows,” said Brian, who played at St. Norbert College and is now an assistant at De Pere. “That’s just the way he is. His makeup is, if things aren’t going well, it’s the worst of the world and if things are going really well, it’s really, really, really good.
“I just told him that you’ve got to take a much more balanced approach to it and continue to focus on the other things.”
That’s the same advice Pritzl received from UW coach Greg Gard. After Pritzl scored a career-high 20 points in a 73-63 overtime win over Minnesota on Feb. 19, Gard was asked about the turnaround Pritzl had made since being in the dumps following the loss at Maryland 15 days earlier.
“Here’s why: Not because he’s made more shots, but because he’s been better defensively,” Gard said. “Sixty days ago, I couldn’t trust him that long on the floor defensively. He wasn’t good enough defensively to play in long stretches or to play without having breakdowns somewhere. He’s been better defensively, he’s rebounded the ball better, he’s dove on more loose balls or put his face in there and gotten in the mix and showed some toughness in that area.
“The shooting, I think, has been a by-product of him being really engaged in the game in other areas. Obviously, I’m happy for him, but I’m more pleased and more satisfied as a coach to see those other things come to fruition. I’ve always known he’s a good shooter. I’ve watched him every day for all the way back to high school when I recruited him. The kid can shoot the ball, but that’s not the only part of a player’s game. He’s been growing in those other areas and now is becoming a more reliable, dependable, consistent player.”
It’s been a strange season for Pritzl, who was a starter at the beginning of the season, lost that role after four games, got it back six games later when sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice sustained a foot injury and lost it again following the 0-for-11 performance against Northwestern.
This is Pritzl’s first season as a regular contributor — he had logged 199 minutes entering the 2017-18 campaign — and he immediately stepped into a key role on a team with Ethan Happ as the only returning starter. The pressure on Pritzl and others only intensified once Trice and freshman wing Kobe King (knee) went down after 10 games.
For Pritzl, one of the challenges is to not be defined by whether or not his shots are falling. He arrived at UW with a reputation as a sharpshooter and, considering the Badgers’ lack of weapons around Happ, Pritzl’s offensive numbers were magnified whenever the team struggled to score this season.
Blocking out the noise from critics isn’t easy, but it’s something Pritzl believes he’s gotten better at as the season has progressed.
“It’s just about not getting down when things happen that I don’t like,” he said. “It’s a pretty simple game when I stop over-thinking everything.”
As for putting his frustrations in writing as UW’s charter plane cruised along at 36,000 feet three weeks ago, Pritzl believes it was exactly what he needed.
“It worked,” he said. “I felt a lot better.”