Ethan Happ had a goal for every workout he conducted this summer: make 500 jump shots.
Months later, with the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers (7-2) set to face Idaho State (1-7) Wednesday night, Happ has yet to make one in a game.
In fact, the sophomore forward has not even attempted a field goal outside the paint this season.
“You can’t deny that,” Happ said with a smile.
But as the Badgers ready for Idaho State and begin to prepare for their Big Ten season, Happ’s shot selection is not a point of contention. The sophomore forward continues to frustrate opponents on offense even without a viable jumper.
“He doesn’t have to shoot a jump shot,” head coach Greg Gard said after Wisconsin’s victory over Oklahoma. “He’s quick enough and strong enough and surrounded by enough great shooters and understands what he’s good at.”
Happ certainly does understand his strengths. And he aptly recognizes that in principle, the point value of a made jumper is the same as a made shot around the basket. The sophomore forward from Milan, Ill., admits to being more comfortable around the rim, and that even with defenders knowing full well that he has an unproven jumper, he still is able to wreak havoc around the basket.
“I can’t expose my secrets,” Happ said. “But there’s the main, there’s the counter to that, then there’s the counter to that. There are a few staples of my game I like to go to. If you take this away then you’re giving me this or giving me something else.”
A lot of players can play in the post, but Happ’s ability to effectively use his handles and back down defenders is a skill that few big men in the country are accustomed to defending.
“I like the fact that he can put it on the deck,” assistant coach Howard Moore said. “Sometimes that’s a stronger tool than a jump shot because you can draw fouls by putting the ball on the floor especially against bigs who aren’t accustomed to guys who can put it on the floor and you can cause problems that way.”
Happ certainly has been a problem for most defenders so far this season. After scoring a season-high 24 points in UW’s win over Syracuse on Nov. 29, Happ scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the Badgers’ victory over the Sooners.
He is second on the Badgers in points per game, and has scored at least 12 points in six consecutive games.
Lethal footwork is one reason for his success. A constant drive to outwork his defenders is another. But since returning from his freshman year, Happ says that this season, he’s reading defenses better and has done less to force up shots around the basket.
“Just being more patient is one of the things,” Happ said. “It’s a lot of the same things as last year, but I find that I’ve gotten more patient and [I’m] trying not to force the issue.”
As a result, the sophomore forward remains content to hang out around the rim. He claims that once his shot comes along, he has a flurry of moves that he’ll then be able to debut and utilize.
“Until then,” he said, “I’m just going to keep it to the staples.”
The Idaho State Bengals present a unique challenge for Happ as seldom does the 6-foot-10 forward play against true seven-foot centers.
Sophomore Novak Topalovic, a seven-foot center from Serbia, leads the Bengals in rebounding per game and just last week in Idaho State’s victory over Lamar blocked six shots.
“They have two really good guards and a seven footer,” Happ said. “Anytime you have a footer, it’s gonna be your work cut out for you down low. That’s what I’m looking at, is what I’ve done in the past to guys who are that much bigger than me.”
As Happ readies for UW’s matchup against the Bengals, one thing he won’t find on tape is a clip of him taking jump shots. But that isn’t a problem to Happ, Gard, Moore or any of his teammates—he still can’t be stopped.
The game with Idaho State tips off from the Kohl Center Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.