Ethan Happ’s head is still spinning from how quickly this all escalated.
Many sophomores playing varsity basketball own the “promising” label. But few see their stock rise like Happ’s, who kept steadily growing toward his current height of 6-foot-7 and gracefully crafted his game to match.
The Rockridge 16-year-old’s recruiting period was over faster than you can say “wicked wingspan.” Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close watched a few of Happ’s AAU games with Q-C Elite, liked what he saw, and invited Happ to attend an elite camp in Madison.
Head coach Bo Ryan watched Happ for about an hour. Eternally shopping for versatile big men in his swing offense, Ryan looked at Rockets coach Toby Whiteman and said, “We’re going to offer him a scholarship.”
All this for a kid who was a blip on the small-school radar just three months ago. Happ needed barely two weeks to accept the Badgers’ offer, and he’s celebrating this weekend by putting in work with Rockridge in the Justin Sharp Memorial Shootout.
“It’s been crazy. Lot of calls, lot of reporters,” Happ said. “But it’s a lot of fun.”
According to Whiteman, the courtship with Wisconsin ignited when Close related Happ’s precocious skills to incoming Badger Sam Dekker.
Dekker is a five-star recruit, ranked by Scout.com as the fourth-best small forward in the class of 2012. Happ is unranked and didn’t even have a Scout profile until last month.
Happ has started to watch Big Ten Network replays of Wisconsin basketball games this summer, in between gym sessions and hitting the weight room four days a week. He weighs 200 pounds, and won’t be sure where he’ll settle in on the scale until his height tops out.
“You can tell he’s a little bit thicker,” Whiteman said. “The biggest things I noticed is his explosion off the ground, and … last year he had a little hitch in his shot, which he’s gotten rid of completely.
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“He can catch and shoot. He can take two dribbles and pull up, and it’s fluid. That comes with him getting used to his body because he’s grown so much in a year and a half.”
After helping the Rockets beat Moline — in which Happ used his inside-outside game and utilized shooters Bryan Heath, Nyle Stevens and T.J. Henry to break down the Maroons’ zone — Happ faced Washington stud Alec Peters in a learning experience against top competition.
The junior-to-be forward is fine-tuning his lateral quickness and outside shot. His post defense is a work in progress, but as Whiteman said, “If he puts his mind to it, he can defend anywhere from one to five.”
Happ’s scoring, passing, ballhandling and instincts added Big Ten basketball to his future. With two years remaining in high school and talented shooters around him, Rockridge has lofty goals.
“We’re all happy for him. Now we know we have a bigger target on our backs, just since we have a Division-I scholarship player on our team,” said Bryan Heath, the sophomore brother of recently graduated Joe Heath, who was fourth-team all-state last winter.
“We’ll have to play harder. We’re ready. We want to play better teams and go to state.”