After his first three years as a walk-on contributor off the bench for head coach Bo Ryan's basketball squad, Clayton Hanson enters the upcoming season with a newly added title, clearly indicative that his hard work has paid off.
Following the departure of Devin Harris to the NBA, Ryan decided to hand over the team's leftover scholarship to someone that has truly paid his dues to the program. But to Hanson, the title of being a scholarship athlete has not changed him or his approach to the game one bit.
"I don't think it's [this year] any different, I'm still here to get better as a player," Hanson said. "So as far as my approach to basketball, it's not anything different. On the court and around the building, nothing has changed. But financially, this is a great thing for my parents and for myself. But apart from that, it's not much different."
"I've approached every year the same by working as hard as you can and doing everything you can to get better as a player and help the team get better," Hanson added. "This year is not going to be any different… but man, it's gone by fast."
Over Hanson's first three years at UW, his development from a high school standout to a more complete role player has been improving each year and this season should be no different. After an offseason in which Hanson juggled both a real estate internship and a summer conditioning program in Madison, he also managed to fit in time to travel to Europe and play for the Big Ten Men's Basketball Foreign Tour team.
In addition to averaging a team-high 11.2 points per game on the tour, Hanson says he learned a lot more about defensive footwork and coverage. More importantly, he feels it gave him a lot more experience with different competition and different styles of the game that he acknowledges has helped him become a better player.
Already this season, his teammates and even the coaches have noticed improvements in Hanson's play, primarily defensively, from a year ago.
"He continues to improve shooting the ball and defensively and he's quicker now than when he got here," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "He works hard every time he steps out on the floor, every play, every possession and it makes a big difference out there. He brings a lot. He brings that experience and does a lot of the little things that some people never notice that can change the flow of the game. He's real important to us that way."
"He's always been solid," Ryan said about Hanson. "He's just trying to anticipate a little bit better, beating guys to spots defensively. He moves well away from the ball and makes good decisions with the ball. Gets after the loose ones. He's a very opportunistic player. He's an opportunistic person. He takes advantage of a lot of things. He doesn't spend too much time not working on getting better at everything."
Entering his final season in a Wisconsin uniform, Hanson realizes he has a duty to be a leader on the team—on and off the court. As one of five seniors on this year's squad, Hanson feels that the on the court guidance from seniors must come from the entire group and that his contributions will be more from setting an example rather than vocally.
"You don't have to say something to teach and be an effective leader and that's Clayton" Wilkinson said. "If he sees something, he'll let someone know and he leads by example."
This example he leads by also applies to his off the court lifestyle. As Ryan said, Hanson really does spend his time trying to get better at all things he does in basketball. The same can be said about his school work.
Honored as an academic all-Big Ten student-athlete in 2004 with a 3.58 grade point average, this year, Hanson has the added duty of finishing up his double major—real estate and urban land economics and finance, investment and banking. The effort and hard work Hanson puts forth to deal with the challenge of such a rigorous school schedule is obvious to his roommate and teammate, senior forward Zach Morley.
"It's rare to see him at home sitting there and not studying or at the library," Morley said. "Just like everybody else, he likes to sit down and watch TV, but for him, its not until his work is done. He's one of those guys, that no matter what he's doing, he's going to put a lot of effort into it. Whether its in practice or studying, he really commits himself to everything he does and this is a great example for the rest of the guys."
It is the epitome of what anyone associated with the University would hope for out of one of its student-athletes—the dedication on and off the court to becoming a better athlete and individual.
Even back in his hometown of Reedsburg, people recognize the type of person Clayton Hanson has become. He's reached a celebrity status in the small town, mainly because he is everything parents want their children to be like when they get older.
"Everywhere he went, all the little kids looked up to him and dreamed they could some day be him," Morley said.