SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ethan Happ had a close-up view when Wisconsin defeated Oregon 72-65 in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Happ was a true freshman sitting out a redshirt year while learning from Frank Kaminsky during the Badgers’ run to the national title game that ended with a 68-63 loss to Duke.
“I was planning to play right away, but obviously they didn’t lose anyone in the front court from the Final Four the previous year,” Happ said, referencing Wisconsin’s 2014 run to the national semifinals that included a 85-77 win over Oregon in the second round. “I was looking at playing eight or 10 minutes a game or playing two games and then not playing a couple games. That’s not how I wanted to spend my first year, so that’s why I ended up redshirting.”
The 6-foot-11 Kaminsky also sat out a redshirt season during a five-year run with the Badgers that led to a first-round selection in the NBA draft. Happ declared for the NBA after his junior year before choosing to return for his fifth season on campus.
“We live in such a world of instant gratification, everyone wants it now,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “They live on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter and get instantaneous results or an answer right away. The real world doesn’t work like that. They have to have the patience to persist and develop and work and grow.”
Happ was a 6-3 guard when he arrived at Rockridge High School in Milan, Ill., before turning into a Division I prospect as he grew to 6-10.
Coming off the redshirt season, Happ averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 points as a freshman. He has started all 138 games he’s played for the Badgers while steadily increasing his averages to 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds as a senior while becoming the first Wisconsin player to ever earn all-Big Ten honors in three seasons.
Happ also leads leads the Badgers (23-10) with 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals while blocking 1.3 shots per game as they open the NCAA Tournament against Oregon (23-12) at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
“Happ has got unbelievable instincts, getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “Any time he sees a double coming or pressure, the ball is out of his hands and he is an accurate, one-handed passer. For a big guy to average almost five assists per game is unique.”
Oregon freshman Francis Okoro watched plenty of Big Ten basketball on television while playing high school ball last year in Normal, Ill. He paid particular attention to Wisconsin as the Badgers recruited him.
“The main matchup is Happ, he’s a special player,” Okoro said. “I have been watching him for about two years now and seen him work out. His footwork is excellent and at the same time his ability to pass, not every big has that. He knows where all of his teammates are.”
Okoro and Kenny Wooten will spend most of the time guarding Happ.
“We have to defend him and make them play on the outside,” Wooten said. “We need to make sure they don’t get anything at the basket. Happ is very versatile, he dribbles and can make the mid-range shot and passes well so we need to have them play through different players.”
Wisconsin starts three guards with Happ and 6-11 sophomore Nate Reuvers while Oregon will counter with four 6-9 starters.
“We know they are real long and bouncy but we played against similar types of guys in the Big Ten season,” Happ said. “The biggest thing is just to remain poised, take our time around the interior and know that if we can use some pump fakes, extra pivots, whatever it may be, hopefully we get them off balance and find ways to score against their length.”