Wisconsin Badgers sophomore Ethan Happ discusses his development from redshirting to becoming one of the Big Ten’s premier big men.
Ethan Happ spent his first year at Wisconsin emulating opposing players as a scout-team redshirt, helping then-teammate Frank Kaminsky prepare for the Badgers’ upcoming opponents.
It was a less-than-glamorous job made only worse by the eventual Wooden and Naismith Award winner consistently embarrassing him at both ends of the floor during practices.
“There would be a period of time where Frank would score on me so much and in so many different ways,” Happ told Campus Insiders. “And I was getting blocked so many times by a 7-footer, you learn to maneuver your way around it.
“When I came (to Wisconsin), I didn’t have much of a post game.”
In roughly three years time, Happ has made a name for himself as one of the Big Ten’s best big men for a Badgers team intent on making another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Happ started every game for last season’s Sweet 16 team, averaging 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. The rise from scout team to standout contributor might’ve been unlikely to some, but Happ credits his maturation to the experience of getting beat up in practice by Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes from Wisconsin’s squad that came within a victory of winning the national championship.
“At the beginning of last year, I was just playing 100 miles-per-hour as hard as I could all the time. As the year progressed, I started to get into what I did best and what my role was.”
That development in part came with the coaching transition from Bo Ryan to Greg Gard. Wisconsin was coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, but it struggled to a 7-5 start last season. Ryan, who led the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 14 full seasons, abruptly retired in mid-December.
Gard, a long-time Ryan assistant, made subtle changes that afforded Happ the opportunity to thrive en route to a strong finish by Wisconsin. That success has carried over into this season, and Happ has been even more efficient.
While his scoring average is nearly the same, his shooting percentage is up drastically from 53.8 to 66.7. He’s second in the Big Ten in rebounding with 9.7 boards per game and tied for second in the conference with six double-doubles. That includes a 24-point, 13-rebound effort in a win over then-No. 22 Syracuse on Nov. 29.
Happ is also dishing out 2.7 assists compared to 1.3 last season.
“Coach Gard, once he took over, started drawing up more plays for (specific) guys to get us the ball in positions where we could score.There were a few plays after Coach Gard took over that were for me to get the ball. There wasn’t much of that early on, (but) I was a freshman, so I could see where Coach Ryan’s head was at.”
Happ, Hayes and Bronson Koenig have helped Wisconsin jump out to a 12-2 start heading into a rough stretch against the conference’s other two teams favored to finish near the top of the standings. The Badgers play at Indiana on Tuesday and at Purdue on Sunday, with Happ likely having plenty of run-ins with the Hoosiers’ Thomas Bryant and the Boilermakers’ Big Ten Player of the Year favorite Caleb Swanigan.
The intimidation Happ once felt going up against Kaminsky in practice is long gone; he’s now a budding star who embraces the challenge of competing against the Big Ten’s top talent.
“They’ll be fun matchups for people to watch, but I’m not going to change anything,” Happ said.