Badgers recruit Happ an MVP and only will get better
MAY 01, 2014 12:00p ET
Ethan Happ acknowledges he had no idea what to expect when he boarded an airplane headed for an international basketball tournament in Germany. He'd never been out of the country, and he would be playing alongside new teammates and against competitors whose talent level matched his own.
"It was some of the best competition I've ever seen," said Happ, Wisconsin's lone scholarship player in the Class of 2014. "There was some of the best in the world that I was playing against. It seemed like every game, coach would let us know that there was a pro, a future pro playing a year or two from now or three or four years from now. There were a bunch of NBA scouts there to watch them play. I guess that can get you kind of hyped for the games and make you work a little harder."
Happ not only played hard, he excelled, at the 16-nation Albert Schweitzer Tournament, which featured some of the best under-18 boys basketball players in the world. He earned most valuable player honors after averaging 19.1 points and 10.7 rebounds and guiding the United States to its first championship game appearance in the tournament since 1996.
"It was gratifying," Happ said of the MVP honor. "I feel like I've put in a lot of work throughout my life to get opportunities such as these to go across the world and play basketball. To play for Team USA, obviously that's a great feeling. And then just to get an award like that, it's very gratifying."
The MVP award capped a whirlwind couple of years as a high schooler for Happ, who returned home at roughly 1 a.m. on Monday. Happ, a 6-foot-8 forward from Rockridge (Ill.) High School, is considered somewhat of a late bloomer on the college basketball recruiting scene.
He measured just 5-9 at the start of eighth grade, was 6-3 during his freshman season and 6-6 as a sophomore. And Happ, who turns 18 next month, is still a player growing into his body, according to his high school coach, Toby Whiteman.
"He hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing," Whiteman said. "We're a smaller school. I tried with him, especially this year, I'm like, 'Ethan you're going to dominate every practice. But let's work on you dominating every possession, dominating every drill.' We tried to find other things for him to really push him to keep making him be a better player.
"I think he proved this over in Germany. When he gets around players of his own caliber, he just takes it to that next level. When he gets to Wisconsin, he's going to be around those players on a daily basis in practice and in workouts. And that's something he didn't have here at Rockridge. That's just going to make him a better player."
Happ earned first-team all-state honors in Illinois as a junior and senior. And last season, he helped guide Rockridge to a 28-1 record and the No. 1 ranking in Class 2A. Rockridge lost in the sectional final to eventual state champion Bloomington Central Catholic, though Happ scored a game-high 29 points. He finished the year averaging 33.0 points and 15.0 rebounds per game.
Those numbers may have helped Happ earn scholarship offers from across the country had he not committed to Wisconsin following his sophomore season. Happ's only Division I scholarship offers, he said, came from Wisconsin, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay.
"I do think about it a little bit," Happ said. "But at the same time, I committed so early, I was still a sophomore. Obviously I would have some upside to me. The fact the coaching staff at Wisconsin saw it, I feel like it's still a good fit for me.
"People ask me all the time if you would have held out and a bigger school like Duke or someone offered you, would you have taken it? I tell them the same thing every time. No, I wouldn't have. Wisconsin is where I want to go, and I feel like that's the right fit for me."
Happ is scheduled to graduate in May, and he said he would be on Wisconsin's campus for summer workouts in June. How he fits into the team's initial playing rotation remains to be seen, but he acknowledged the fight for minutes in his freshman season won't come easily.
Wisconsin returns seven of its top eight players after reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2000, and most pundits consider the Badgers to be a top-three team in the country next season.
"Right now, it's going to be a tough road ahead of me with all the guys coming back from such a great team," Happ said. "But at the same time, as a competitor I guess you just think that you can get the minutes if you work at it. That's kind of my mindset going in. I'm not going to go in saying that I'm going to earn minutes or I'm not going to get any minutes. I'm just going to keep working hard at it and whatever coaches feel is best, that's what they're going to do."
Already, Happ has a list of areas he wants to improve in his game to compete at the next level, particularly his defense and his shooting motion.
Whiteman said he shared with Happ an article from two seasons ago in which Badgers forward Sam Dekker discussed as a freshman the increased intensity necessary to play defense at the college level.
"That's one thing I think he needs to improve on," Whiteman said. "He's going to get that when he gets there. It'll happen because that's the culture that is there. You play hard all the time or they're not going to yell and scream at you. You'll just come off and sit."
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