There’s a saying that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. A prime example of this in action resonates with the career of Wisconsin legend Ethan Happ.
Happ began playing at Wisconsin just one year removed from the team’s National Championship Game appearance with many expecting him to lead the Badgers back to that stage. Now, with his college career nearing an end in the absence of a deep NCAA tournament run, it’s time we recognize his place in Wisconsin basketball lore as one of the greatest Badgers of all time.
A three-star recruit out of Rockridge High School in Taylor Ridge, Illinois, Happ redshirted his freshman year in 2014-15. During the 2015-16 season, Wisconsin’s roster included household names such as Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, but Happ started every game that season, averaging 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, earning him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.
Since his freshman year, Happ has risen to the top of seemingly every Wisconsin career leaderboard. As of last Wednesday’s victory in Minnesota, Happ has tallied 1,962 career points, 1,115 rebounds, 387 assists and 138 blocks. He has also shot a career 55 percent from the field, more than 52 percent each year and has recorded an impressive 29.1 career player efficiency rating.
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This season, Happ is averaging 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 32.1 minutes per game along with two triple-doubles.
The other players in college history to average more than 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game in a single season? Zero.
No one else has done it.
The other players in the NCAA this season with two triple doubles?
Again, no one.
We could spend all day comparing his numbers to the all-time leaderboards, but what’s most impressive about Happ’s career is the success he has brought to Madison without a talented supporting cast.
His career record stands at 81-48. Winning 63 percent of his games — despite not having any recruits in the class above him following Bo Ryan’s retirement — is arguably the most impressive of all career accolades he has achieved.
Still, one big question remains: what’s next for Ethan Happ after this season?
Happ declared for the NBA Draft after last season but did not hire an agent, making it possible for him to return to school if no teams showed serious interest. As many now know, that is exactly what happened, as he was not listed in any mock drafts and would have likely gone undrafted if he hadn’t withdrawn.
Now, why would a player with the career numbers like Happ not receive any interest from the NBA, especially after Wisconsin great Frank Kaminsky was selected in the top ten a few years prior?
The answer to this question is based around two aspects of Happ’s game — a lack of outside shooting and size.
Since he began his college career, Happ has attempted just 16 three-pointers, a tiny number considering the number of minutes he has played. Of these 16 shots, Happ has made only one. Today’s NBA emphasizes the ability of big men to stretch the floor and shoot from distance, a box that Happ cannot check.
Ethan Happ withdraws from NBA draft, will play final season with BadgersAfter an already illustrious career, Wisconsin Basketball star-forward Ethan Happ will play one final season with the Badgers. Happ announced Read…
Additionally, Happ’s offensive game only mirrors that of a handful of current NBA centers, but mirrors that of seemingly every power forward in the 1990s and early 2000s. Back when NBA big men rarely shot from long distance, Happ would have excelled.
But, now that seemingly every player on the floor can shoot the ball well, Happ will struggle to battle in the post with players who share his old-fashioned playing style — players who are also several inches taller than him with larger and stronger body frames.
These deficiencies can still change if Happ can develop an outside shot before June’s draft. If Happ can miraculously model his skill set to be more like that of current NBA power forwards, he will pave a path to success at the next level. As of now, he is currently projected to go in the middle of the second round in many mock drafts.
With all that said, don’t let Happ’s questionable NBA future take away from what he’s done and what he is currently doing for Wisconsin. His career will be over in a couple months, so it’s time we sit back, recognize his greatness and cheer him on as he hopefully leads the Badgers to a deep Big Ten and NCAA tournament run.