Illini Nation: Badgers signee grew up an Illini fan


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Originally Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2013, 3:33 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2013, 4:45 pm
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By Kedric Prince, Illini Nation

Illinois men's basketball fans follow recruiting closer than anyone, but some in this hoops-crazed state may not know about Ethan Happ.

Last season the 6-foot-7 forward from Rockridge High School was a first-team Illinois Class 2A All-Stater and the Area Player of the Year for The Moline Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.

In November, Happ made good on a 17-month-old verbal commitment to Wisconsin, and signed his National Letter of Intent during the NCAA's early-signing period.

According to Rivals.com, Happ is a three-star recruit, but in my book, he may be one of the best kept secrets the state of Illinois has seen in a long time.

Maybe he's under the radar because the state is loaded with high school talent this year. Jahil Okafor, Tyler Ulis, Kieta Bates-Diop, Cliff Alexander, Paul White, Victor Law and Michael Finke are just a few of the names that everyone knows about.

Happ belongs on that list, too. The senior averages 30 points and 13 rebounds per game.

Happ also should rank among the many great in-state products that got away from the Illini.

This one may sting a little because Happ, along with current commit Finke, are perfect for Groce's system, because both are natural shooters, which is a must in the offensive system Groce runs.

Off the court, both Finke and Happ are first-class student-athletes, and when it comes to interviews with journalists, they always respond and give you more than the casual yes and no answers.

But more than anything, on the court is where they're best and have bright futures.

Sadly, for the Illini, Happ would have loved to end up in Champaign.

"My parents were Illini fans,'' Happ said. "I was, too, along with my brother, especially when Luther Head, Dee Brown and those guys were there.''

However, Happ never got a look from his favorite college team, but there's a major reason for that, explained Darren Bizzari, Black Hawk College's coach and Happ's coach with the AAU Quad City Select.

"People can't blame John Groce for not really pursuing Happ,'' Bizarri said. "It was a timing thing. Wisconsin and Iowa had an early start on him. Groce was just getting the job at the time. Happ visited Iowa and Wisconsin, then committed to the Badgers right away (in June 2012).''

Happ confirmed that the coaching change at the time was the reason he felt Illinois really didn't know much about him as a player.

Illini fans can naturally question who Happ competes against, playing for a school in the state's second-smallest class, but the numbers are legit.

Recently, Happ and his Rockets took on Peoria Richwoods, which boasts one of the best big-school basketball traditions in Illinois. Happ torched the Knights for 27 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks on the night.

Just watch him and you'll agree Happ is the real deal. He's versatile, handles the ball extremely well, shoots like a guard and is extremely unselfish when it comes to sharing the ball with his teammates.

"People may not know this, but he was a guard in junior high school,'' Bizarri said. "So that explains why he's so fluid in the open court.''

Bizarri added the kid is a hard worker, too.

Happ is in the weight room at 6:30 a.m., but the best sign is he's not going alone. Happ will text his teammates to see if they need a ride because he's a winner and knows it's a team game.

So, yeah, the future is bright.

"I really think Ethan's best basketball is ahead of him,'' said Rockridge's coach Toby Whiteman. "He's a 17-year-old kid that has a passion for the game and works extremely hard to get better each day. He's going to the best program that will develop all of his skills, and since he's just now growing into his frame, I think we will see his talent and skill level take off when he gets into the Badger program.''

That's sad news to hear for Illini fans.

















 




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