Ethan Happ was disappointed when he found out he wasn’t on the initial list of players invited to the NBA draft combine later this month.
Eventually, a feeling of déjà vu hit Happ, who is mulling whether to return for his senior season with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
“It’s almost like a rerun of when I started,” said Happ, who is holding out hope that an invite to the combine could still come if enough prospects drop out of the event. “In high school, I was kind of trying to prove myself as a freshman and then as a freshman in college, I had to prove myself again.
“I guess there’s always been some kind of chip on my shoulder.”
Happ, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward/center, declared for the NBA draft last month but has not hired an agent. He’s spent the past few weeks working out with a trainer in Chicago, where Happ is covering all of his expenses so he can retain his NCAA eligibility until it’s time to make a decision on his future.
West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison are among the players working out with Happ from Monday through Saturday at Quest Multisport, which just so happens to be where the combine will be held May 12-16. The players go through rigorous three-hour morning workouts Monday through Saturday along with lifting sessions some afternoons.
Happ spends his evenings at a condominium owned by his uncle. The good news? That family connection helps cut costs and he has the pad all to himself. The bad news? Happ has only a handful of television channels at his disposal and no wireless internet.
Is Happ enjoying the process?
“It’s a tough life, but it’s a fun life,” said Happ, who spends part of his free time working on schoolwork from the online classes he’s taking this semester to wrap up his degree at UW. “The work, it’s a lot, it’s time-consuming, but I can’t think of anything else that I’d rather do.
“Not getting an invite to the combine — at least initially — is tough. But I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements to my game and I’m looking forward to showing some people that.”
The real fun begins later this week for Happ, who has workouts scheduled with two NBA teams. He’ll visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
Happ said his training in Chicago is focused on three main components based on preliminary feedback he’s received from NBA personnel.
The first two are physical: becoming more explosive around the rim and better able to get up and down the floor quickly.
“Honestly,” Happ said, “I think I’m in the best shape of my life.”
The third piece to Happ’s training is a subject that has been covered so often throughout his career that he’s grown tired of discussing it: shooting.
“That’s the obvious one that’s been hanging with me throughout my whole career,” Happ said. “And I do believe I’ve made some strides in that.”
Happ averaged 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game as a junior, leading the Badgers in all five of those categories en route to first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season.
But he struggled again from the free throw line, shooting 55.0 percent after making half of his attempts as a sophomore, and did almost all of his damage from the field around the rim.
Much was made last offseason about Happ developing a 3-point shot, but he only attempted 11 shots from beyond the arc in 2017-18 and connected just once. Happ said he’s been encouraged by UW coach Greg Gard and his staff to master a mid-range game.
“Talking with the coaches after the season, that was definitely one of the focus points was that it doesn’t have to be 3s. If I could have an automatic 10- to 15-foot jump shot, that would do us just as good, which I agree with,” Happ said. “But at the same time, for me, I’ve just always thought if you can shoot, you can shoot. I don’t necessarily think it’s limited to range or spot.”
When the Badgers’ season ended with a close loss to Michigan State in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal on March 2, Happ spoke openly about his thought process for the draft.
Happ said at the time that he had no desire to spend next season playing in Europe or the NBA G-League rather than returning to UW, even though the former options would allow him to start making money.
He also said that if he returned to college, it would be at UW. Rumors had surfaced during the season that Happ was considering spending his final season elsewhere as a graduate transfer.
Finally, Happ said he’d stay in the draft only if he was convinced he’d be a first-round draft pick. That seemed — and still seems — like a highly unlikely scenario based on mock drafts and the fact Happ wasn’t among the 60 players invited to the combine.
Happ said Monday night his mindset hasn’t changed in the past two months, though he hedged slightly on the draft placement issue: If Happ was told he’d be drafted early in the second round, he said, he’d have a difficult decision to make.
A recent Sports Illustrated ranking of the top 100 draft-eligible players had Happ at No. 93.
“There’s a long way to go until I even start thinking about that stuff really,” Happ said. “A lot of workouts, a lot of stuff to do before then.”
For now, Happ continues to pursue his dream, the chip on his shoulder growing larger by the day.
“A quote that is thrown around a lot with the guys,” Happ said, “is you just need one team to fall in love with you.”