PULLMAN – Michael Flowers’ leadership qualities stem from his upbringing.
Washington State’s grad transfer point guard embodies perseverance and poise, and attributes his success on the basketball court to the hard-working principles instilled by his late parents.
“They set me up for this, the way they raised me,” Flowers said.
He draws motivation from his mother and father, both of whom died from cancer within a span of just over two years.
“They keep me going,” he said earlier this month during a sit-down with the Spokesman-Review. “They would want me to keep going. I keep that in the back of my mind. I gotta keep going, for them.
“They give me energy and inspiration to keep pushing every day and find a way to be strong and do it for them. I’ll always do it for them. I know they’re proud of me.”
His mother, Joyce, passed away in early 2018 after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. At the time, Flowers was a freshman at Western Michigan.
His father, Henry, died Nov. 24, 2020, following an extended fight with the disease. Flowers, then a senior transfer at South Alabama, hit a winning 3-pointer the next day in the Jaguars’ season opener.
Flowers, 23, speaks with candor and astuteness beyond his years. He had to “grow up fast” during his collegiate career.
The wounds are fresh, and he acknowledges that the grieving process is far from over.
“Those were tough battles,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t like thinking about it too much. I forget a lot of the stuff that went along with it because it was such a traumatic situation. … They were amazing parents who supported me and my sister through everything. They’re still watching over me and helping me along the way.
“I had to learn new ways to live my life at an early age. I’m figuring it out as I go.”
The Cougars (14-11, 7-7 Pac-12) will lean on Flowers’ determination and mature influence down the stretch in their pursuit of a postseason berth. WSU hopes to snap a four-game skid and shake its shooting funk when it visits No. 17 USC for a 4:30 p.m. tip Sunday.
The 6-foot-1 product of Southfield, Michigan – located in the Detroit metro – was assigned primary ball-handling duties at midseason and named a team captain.
“He’s a great leader,” forward DJ Rodman said. “We have a guy who can make a shot when we need it and a guy who’s not afraid to take the shots and be a leader. We need that. … He’s a great role model and he’s shown he’s fearless.”
Flowers is the Cougars’ top scorer (13.4 points per game) and distributor (3.04 assists). He’s WSU’s most reliable crunch-time shooter and leads all guards on the team with a respectable 39.3% mark from the field and 36.9% from distance – on approximately seven 3-point attempts per game. Flowers has scored more than 20 points in three games since the start of February. He’s adding a steal per game and committing a career-low 1.5 turnovers this season.
“We have a quarterback,” coach Kyle Smith said of Flowers earlier this month. “He’s calm and he keeps us calm. He’s not afraid to make a big play and guys feed off his leadership.”
In the clutch, Flowers’ composure is evident. No moment seems too big, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his wealth of experience. Flowers has started 117 Division I games, dating back to his sophomore season at WMU.
“It’s my fourth year playing real minutes, so I’ve been in certain situations that my teammates haven’t,” he said. “That helps me stay poised in situations that I’ve been in multiple times before. It helps keep the team calm, especially since our team is filled with younger players.”
Flowers mostly rode the bench with the Broncos as a rookie out of Southfield A&T, where he captured two all-state selections but fell under the recruiting radar after a knee injury sidelined him for a stretch of games early in his senior year.
“(WMU) was one of only two offers,” he said of the Kalamazoo school – about a two-hour drive west from Flowers’ hometown.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason. I don’t regret a thing. It was good for me to go there. I needed that at the time because of my family situation; it was easy to go back and forth.”
Flowers has been a leader at every stop.
He put his head down over the offseason and broke out as a double-digit scorer as a sophomore at WMU, then became the program’s best player in 2019-20, when he posted per-game averages of 16.9 points and 3.3 assists.
Longtime Bronco coach Steve Hawkins had been a close mentor following Flowers’ tragic loss. When Hawkins was fired by WMU in March 2020, Flowers opted to leave his home state for what he figured would be his final college season.
“I wanted to put myself in a position to go out with a bang and end my career on a good note,” he said.
Flowers and South Alabama coach Richie Riley formed an immediate connection.
“He believed in me and fought to put me in the best position to show how good I could be,” he said.
After losing his father – who introduced Flowers to basketball at a young age – one day before the season began, Flowers turned in an exceptional season, emerging as one of the nation’s most prolific scorers.
He finished the year fourth in total points among all D-I players, scoring 21 per game on 43.8% shooting. On average, he shot about 7 of 15 from the floor every night and doled out a team-best 3.6 assists for the Jaguars, who went 17-11 and fell in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
“I was getting a lot of buckets,” he said. “We went through a lot of adversity with players sitting out because of COVID, so it was a weird year. But I made the best of it. Coach trusted me to step into that role and make it happen. Shoot, I just took it upon my shoulders.”
The NCAA ruled in October that all winter athletes would be permitted one extra year of eligibility to account for the coronavirus pandemic’s disruptions.
“It was like, ‘All right, I have an extra year and I have another opportunity to do what I always wanted to do: get to March Madness,’ ” Flowers said.
Flowers wasn’t short on power-conference suitors. A host of established heavyweights came calling – including Arkansas, USC, Florida and Miami. But he saw a unique opportunity in WSU.
“I could have gone somewhere where a foundation was already set, but I felt like WSU was on the rise and I could be a part of starting something special,” he said. “I wanted to help create something good for the culture.”
In Pullman, his role has shifted somewhat. He’s not expected to shoulder the scoring load on a nightly basis. Flowers is still WSU’s chief shot-maker and possesses the ball more than any other Cougar, but he’s putting up four fewer field-goal attempts per game than he had at South Alabama.
Flowers has led the Cougars in scoring in nine of 25 games this season – four this month.
“The team is set up differently, so there are plays that I can make that maybe I didn’t before,” he said. “The build of the team helped my game to show what I can do other than scoring.”
He wasn’t designated point-guard responsibilities this season until about a dozen games had passed.
Smith sat the team down at a practice session one day and outlined each player’s function.
“He wants me to show my leadership, lead by example, hold guys accountable and put my teammates in positions to be successful,” said Flowers, an impressive passer on pick-and-roll plays. He also seems to have a knack for draining contested 3-pointers.
“I’m a shooter, so I love making 3s,” he said. “But it’s satisfying to make good passes, good reads and set my teammates up for big plays.”
Flowers arrived in Pullman in June and, highlighting the family-like community, has come to “love it here.”
“It’s a special place,” he said, adding that his goal is to “give back to the city” and lift the Cougs back into contention for a tourney berth. “It’s got a great fan base waiting for something to cheer for.”
Flowers, for one, is easy to root for.
He squeezed in a trip this winter to the Detroit area, where a “tight-knit” network of relatives still resides: his sister, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“My inspiration has always come from my family,” he said.
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