The tape measure just kept getting longer and longer. Ethan Happ responded, growing pains or not, by working harder on his all-court game.
He noticed, his coaches noticed, and so did a couple of Big Ten programs. It took just 12 days for Happ, entering his junior season at Rockridge, to accept Wisconsin’s scholarship offer Tuesday on his second visit to Madison.
“I know that I’m not a finished product,” said Happ, who turned 16 in May. “I like how they put you through the workouts that you need to get to the highest level you can.”
Happ had been offered by Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay, and visited Iowa last week. He led the Rockets (21-7) last season averaging 15.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
A Class 2A honorable-mention all-state pick by The Associated Press and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, Happ is listed appropriately as a forward, a position he’s played for a matter of months.
Happ was 5-foot-9 at the start of his eighth-grade year. That was less than three years ago. When his dad, Randy, measured him the other night, he stood 6-foot-7 without wearing sneakers.
“It really helps that I played point guard up until my sophomore year,” Happ said. “When our team’s getting pressured, I can help alleviate that. It helps in the open floor, with passing and dribbling skills.”
Even while sore and hurting from the growth spurt, Happ made soaring strides the past few months working with his AAU team, the Quad-City Elite, which Rockridge assistant Logan Wynn founded four years ago.
“As soon as the season was over, we had him in the gym a lot,” Wynn said. “He grew so quick that he was uncomfortable with everything he was doing. But in the gym recently, he hit 30 threes and 20 dunks. Ethan’s skills have taken off.”
Rockridge basketball coach Toby Whiteman kept hearing the glowing reports, and didn’t quite believe it until he saw with his own eyes.
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“The things that Ethan’s doing and the work he’s putting in right now warrant what he’s getting in return,” Whiteman said. “With this happening, he’s just going to work harder. I know that.”
Happ has struggled to put on weight while shooting skyward, but the 2011-12 Quad-City Times all-Western Illinois second-teamer enjoyed keeping his hand-eye coordination uncommonly synced for a big man.
“I think that’s what Wisconsin is seeing in him,” Wynn said. “I’ve never seen a kid with better hands on loose balls, as a really good passer, and finishing real well in traffic.”
Happ can officially seal his commitment in November 2013, with two years of prep eligibility remaining.
“The sky’s the limit for him personally and team-wise,” Whiteman said. “He’s going to take more of a leader’s role and make players around him better.”
Former Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer’s famed story was growing 10 inches in high school, evolving into an all-Big Ten post player. Leuer appeared in 46 games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season.