LOS ANGELES - While his teammates are preparing for the biggest game of their college basketball season, forward Ethan Happ is sitting quietly at his locker, out of the way of the media parade in the Wisconsin locker room, and deep in thought.
He’s not thinking about the final preparations he needs to go through on the scout team for top-seed Wisconsin’s Elite Eight matchup with two-seed Arizona. On a team that solely focuses on the next 40 minutes, Happ isn’t afraid to admit he’s focused on the next season of Wisconsin basketball.
“For me personally, it’s been there for some months now,” said Happ. “Whenever I start daydreaming, I think about what’s to come and how to get better. I’m excited to see what next year has to offer.”
Whenever the Badgers’ season ends, either tomorrow night or sometime next weekend, Wisconsin will begin the challenging task of figuring out how to replace four seniors, especially national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky.
The 6-9, 230-pound Happ doesn’t expect to be the next Kaminsky, at least not next season, but he is hopeful that the work he’s put in over the last eight-plus months provides some quick dividends.
A two-time AP first-team all-state selection as both a junior and senior, including averaging a double-double (33 ppg, 15 rbg) as a senior at Rockridge High School in Illinois, Happ feels he’s made significant strides in his strength and conditioning thanks to team strength coach Erik Helland.
“Erik does a great job,” said Happ. “I don’t feel a whole lot bigger, but I just feel I can move quicker, that I’m stronger, I can’t get pushed off the block and things like that. He does a great job in making our core a lot stronger and making us quicker.”
His teammates have taken notice. When Kaminsky and fellow senior Josh Gasser were asked Friday what players are going to be the next guys to step up after they leave, both centered on Happ.
“He gets better every day,” said Kaminsky. “He’s one of those guys that has a will to come in and compete every day in practice and get better.”
“Ethan dominates in practices,” added Gasser. “He’s a really good post player and he has the ability to come in and play right now if we needed to. But he’s smart and wanted to redshirt and kind of make the most out of his four years.”
Although he knows the decision to redshirt was the right thing to do, it hasn’t made sitting and watching any easier. Happ is one of three players watching from the sidelines this season, joining sophomore Jordan Hill and freshman T.J. Schlundt, and has spent considering time talking to senior Duje Dukan and others about they took advantage of their year away.
“I’ve talked to them a lot about how I get to the point they are at,” Happ said. “In games, I have definitely learned a lot about the dos and don’t’s of the coaching staff. Also that we have to keep a level head at all times. Sometimes in practice I get frustrated and get down on myself, but next year, and the years to come, when I’m out on the court, I know that I can’t do that and still be on the court.”
The hard, thankless job of the scout team does have its perks. Going against Kaminsky and Hayes in practice, Happ has gained a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the Division 1 level. It’s part of the reason why he has a “wow” moment every time Kaminsky makes a big scoring or rebounding night look easy.
With a little shot improvement and added strength, Happ could be the next in line to make those plays.
“That was a very tough decision to make when you know this team is going to be so good,” said Happ. “Once I made it, I really didn’t want to look back on it too much. There’s definitely times where I think I could be out there. Overall I’m just going to be happy with the decision I made.”