That Just HAPPened: Ethan Happ’s Rise to Stardom

Wisconsin Badgers XXXX during an NCAA college basketball game against the Siena Saints Sunday, November 15, 2015, in Madison, Wis. (Photo by David Stluka)

“At forward, a six-foot ten-inch sophomore from Milan, Illinois, number twenty-two, EEEETHANNNN HAPP!”

Not many saw Happ’s ascent to Big Ten superstar coming. Unheralded as a universally regarded three-star recruit, he seemed to be another one of Bo Ryan’s grinders that would manage to be molded into a solid player by the time his junior season came around.

Happ, however, was different. Pressed into a starting role created by the departures of forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, the redshirt-freshman Happ stepped into the fire and thrived right off the bat. While the Badgers struggled at the start of the 2015-2016 season, Happ was there to pick them up and right the ship. Sporting an 8-5 record headed into conference play, the Badgers lacked an identity on offense, and were much too caught up in isolation sets for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. With Greg Gard’s re-installation of the swing offense, the offense began to revolve around Happ, and he went on to lead them to the Sweet Sixteen.

This season has been a somewhat similar story, but on a completely different level. The offense has not just revolved around Happ; the offense IS Happ. Nearly every possession features at least one or two Happ post touches, with which he either finds a high percentage shot for himself or kicks the ball back out for a new offensive look.

Part of what makes Happ the Badgers’ offense is the attention he draws when he has the ball in his hands. He has become so unstoppable in the post that you often see two defenders collapse to help stop him, giving great opportunities for Happ to swing the ball back outside to one of the Badgers’ knockdown shooters for an open shot.

Happ also has excelled in fortifying the Badgers’ defense, as they allow a stingy 59.8 points per game, good for fourth in the nation. Happ individually leads the team in rebounds, blocks, and steals, with his block and steal totals both being good enough for second in the Big Ten. You seldom see the kind of across-the-board defensive effort that can be seen out of Happ on a nightly basis, and the amount of steals he generates as a big man is almost unheard of. His effort on this end of the floor is truly unique.

Happ differs greatly from the great Badgers’ bigs that we have grown so accustomed to seeing, those tall, lanky seven-foot shooters like Frank Kaminsky, Jared Bergrren, and Brian Butch. Happ, to Badgers’ fans, came on as a bit of a novelty item compared to those names. Lacking any sort of jump-shot, Happ utilizes his wide array of post moves and spins to pile up points. Think about how ludicrous this is: Happ has made a total of ONE jump shot in his entire college career thus far. Teams know what is coming at them, and they still cannot stop it. Other than those teams with big stoppers like Purdue with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, the opposition simply does not really stand a chance against Happ. Even against Indiana on Sunday, Coach Tom Crean had to switch his seven-foot tall NBA lottery prospect Thomas Bryant off of Happ because he could not handle him.

If Happ ends up being a four-year player, the rest of the Big Ten should be terrified. As a sophomore, Happ is putting up the kind of numbers and across the board production that not only could make him First Team All-Big Ten, but also could warrant consideration for First Team All-America. With the level of improvement he has shown thus far, there is no ceiling on what Happ can achieve during his time in the Badgers’ red and white.


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