As a sports writer, I get the privilege of attending any and all athletic events for free.
That has given me the luxury of having front row seats for more than 30 years to see some of Wisconsin’s best high school athletes.
So when Gazette sports editor Eric Schmoldt and I decided to do a column on which prep athlete, in our opinion, is the greatest we’ve ever seen in person, I had to ask myself one simple question: Who would I have paid most to see play?
Coming up with a top 10 list was difficult because there have been so many talented boys and girls in so many different sports. Picking the all-time greatest, however, was easy.
Michael Flowers gets my vote. He simply was in a league of his own.
The 2004 Madison La Follette graduate excelled on the gridiron and on the hardwood before eventually deciding to give up football to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin. A four-year letterwinner for the Badgers, Flowers was twice named to the all-Big Ten defensive team and was a second-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior.
The scary thing is, he was probably even more talented on the football field. The 6-foot-2 speedster with a cannon for an arm was Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes all rolled into one.
He was Houdini on the football field, always finding the quickest and least painful way of getting out of trouble. And as the leader on a team that sometimes struggled, he often found himself trying to get out of a jam.
Former Janesville Parker coach and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame member Joe Dye said he still has nightmares about trying to come up with a defensive plan to stop Flowers.
“Michael Flowers was a phenomenal multisport athlete,” Dye said. “On the football field, he was electric and made all of his teammates better. He had a tremendous arm with a quick release and even quicker feet with an ability to change the launch point at any time. He was a quarterback that could change a high school football game in the same manner that Michael Vick changed college football during the time frame he was at Virginia Tech.
“Michael’s field vision in football was truly outstanding for a high school player, which I believe was one of the key skill sets that he brought to the basketball court later when he played for Wisconsin. He’s a great choice for the all-time greatest.”
Despite not playing football his senior season in order to concentrate on basketball, Flowers was first-team all-Big Eight as a junior and all-state honorable mention. Had he stuck with football, I strongly believe he could’ve started for the Badgers. John Stocco was the quarterback for UW in 2006 and 2007, leading the Badgers to a 12-1 record in 2006, but Tyler Donovan took over the reins in 2007 and had nowhere near the physical tools that Flowers possessed. Flowers was a taller Russell Wilson—who earned all-Big Ten first-team honors in his one season with the Badgers in 2011.
Although we’ll never know what kind of success Flowers would’ve found football-wise, he certainly made a name for himself on the basketball court.
A three-time all-Big Eight selection and a first-team all-state pick his junior and senior year, Flowers helped lead the Lancers to the WIAA Division 1 state title in 2002. He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2004.
Playing alongside his brothers Jonte and Jason during the 2001-02 season, Michael scored 42 points in three state tournament games, including 11 in the Lancers’ 43-40 win over Fond du Lac in the state championship game.
In college, Flowers was a part of Wisconsin teams that earned the program’s first No. 1 national ranking in 2007, won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships in 2008, and earned All-Big Ten Team honors in 2007 and 2008.
As I think back to all the great athletes I’ve covered, the only one that I can even remotely compare Flowers to is 2020 East Troy graduate A.J. Vukovich. He was the Rock Valley Conference’s player of the year the past three seasons in basketball and last month he was drafted in the fourth round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Vuckovich was a man among boys on the basketball court and certainly could’ve played Division I college basketball.
With so much talent littering the state’s landscape over the years, I’m sure I’ll look back and say, “Oh, I forgot about him, or I forgot to mention her.”
But when it comes to naming the greatest of them all, Michael Flowers easily gets my vote.