Madison, WI — After practice on Monday afternoon, I sat down with Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ.

We talked about various topics, including Greg Gard, the team’s wake up call, Nigel Hayes’s leadership, and more. The 6’9″ redshirt freshman has won the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award three times already this season, but it was clear from our conversation that he is all about the team.

Below is our conversation transcribed from the audiotape.

Zach Rosen (ZR): We haven’t really sat down to talk since Bo retired. Do you feel like Coach Gard has brought a lot to this team?

Ethan Happ (EH): Yeah, they both have different coaching styles. [With] Coach Gard, I’ve been able to approach him when I have an issue with anything really, whether it’s with basketball or outside of basketball. That’s been a big thing with the trust factor. Things that happen on the court – not in the moment – but I can go to him later, talk to him, and he’ll give me an honest answer. Not that Coach Ryan didn’t do that, but I’ve definitely taken advantage of that with Coach Gard.

ZR: Is it more openness? I know he talked about always having his door open.

EH: Yeah, he made it a point to us, and I’ve definitely taken advantage. There’s been a couple of times where there’s been changes. He’s put me into different spots, and I wasn’t sure why, for the good or the worse. [I] went and talked with him, and we got it all hashed out.

ZR: What do you think has really changed the season around ever since that Northwestern game?

EH: My opinion is, and this could be right or it could be wrong, but I think it’s [that] all of the guys care a lot more. Not that they didn’t care before, but I think everyone is all-in now. I don’t know if everyone was all-in before. I think being in danger of not making the tournament after that Northwestern game – it really hit us, and everyone knew that we had to pick it up. And it’s tough to say there was one thing that happened, but I think that’s the biggest thing, in my opinion.

ZR: For you personally, and some other guys too, that was the wake-up call. What do you think got the ball rolling?

EH: Playing together is the biggest thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard it from other players, but that’s what we say every time before we go out on the court – the starting five – is that we gotta play for each other and play together, and then that feeds into the guys coming off the bench, and even the guys that don’t get into the game.

Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ works inside against Siena. (Photo by Rebecca Haas/
Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ works inside against Siena. (Photo by Rebecca Haas/

ZR: You guys have only played six true road games this season. Do you think you’re ready to take on three top 10 foes on the road without a lot of road experience as a team?

EH: It’s hard for me to say since it’s my first go-around of being in the Big Ten, but I think the games we were in on the road we handled ourselves pretty well. The only exception is at Oklahoma; we didn’t really have what we needed there. But, other than that, I think it’s fun playing on the road; it’s a fun atmosphere. But, I think we are ready as a team. I think we’re taking good steps forward.

ZR: A lot of people are saying you guys need to win one of those big games on the road to make it. Are you looking ahead that far?

EH: The player would be lying if they said they’re not looking ahead to the tournament and wanting to make it in the tournament. But Coach Gard tells us all the time about how – don’t worry about the score or the standings, just do your job at the time, our next practice then our next game. But, yeah, I feel confident. We don’t want to just win one of them we want to win all of them.

ZR: Your team identity has come together, but it’s not easy to describe by any means. What would you say it is?

EH: I don’t really know. I think playing together is one of the biggest things. It might sound repetitive; you’ve probably heard it from other players, but I think if you’ve heard it from other players then that means that it could be our team identity could just be playing for each other, and I think we’ve really done that over this stretch of wins.

ZR: The last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about your footwork in Big Ten play. Has that come naturally for you or did you just work really hard at it?

EH: I think it’s a combination of me being a guard all the way up until sophomore year of high school. So that helps my footwork a lot. And then, putting time in, watching film study of Nigel [Hayes] and Frank [Kaminsky] when I wasn’t able to play, and that’s really helped. But, it’s definitely, you have to get in the gym and work on your footwork. It’s not something that comes extremely natural.

ZR: Have you talked to Frank at all lately?

EH: I’ve Snapchatted with him a couple of times, and he just tells me to keep up the good work. I was Snapchatting Josh [Gasser] today, and he said the same thing. I know Sam [Dekker] tweeted some stuff. So it’s nice that those guys are following still, which I doubt they wouldn’t. It’s nice to know that they’re still positively behind you.

ZR: Still part of the team basically.

EH: Yeah, we still have a group chat, and we still talk with them.

ZR: Is your jump shot still something you’re working to build on, or are you working on it right now?

EH: Obviously, if you’re scouting me, I’m not a prolific shooter. But it’s definitely something I’m in the gym working on every day still. I thought it would be ready by this year, but I’m not at 100% confidence yet. I think once I get there, it will be more natural. Once I get a couple in a game, things will start to fall.

ZR: What can you say about Nigel since the Northwestern game? Has there been a change in him?

EH: Yeah, I don’t know if he’s ever said it in an interview, but I feel like that’s one of the care factors that we were talking about. I think he’s all-in now; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, and it’s really shown in his play. And as far as a teammate standpoint, it’s like a zero tolerance with him anymore. If you’re messing up, he’s not gonna to let it slide anymore. Because he knows his team and the team’s season is on the line.

ZR: What do you want to take away from this season outside of team goals?

EH: I think you’re asking the wrong guy because I could score 0 points, I could score 50 points, just as long as the team wins. As long as we keep winning, that’s all I really care about. I want to develop as a player obviously to help the team for next season. But, that’s really all I care about is how the team does.

Featured photo from University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department photography.