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A history of redshirting at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan

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With Ethan Happ' s redshirt decision made, we review the increased frequency of redshirting on the Wisconsin men's basketball team.

Jordan Hill (left) shares a laugh with Nigel Hayes at practice before the Final Four.
Jordan Hill (left) shares a laugh with Nigel Hayes at practice before the Final Four.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin freshman Ethan Happ told reporters after practice Monday that he had finally come to a decision about sitting out this season. The talented forward confirmed the suspicion raised when he did not suit up for either of UW's first two regular-season games, announcing he will redshirt during the 2014-15 season ... probably.

"I guess for right now you could say that I am redshirting until something else transpires – someone gets hurt…or if the coaches believe I can help the team and they come to me about it," he explained.

Happ becomes the third Badger to go the redshirt route this year, joining sophomore guard Jordan Hill and freshman walk-on T.J. Schlundt. Thus continues a recent trend of Wisconsin players choosing to develop early without wasting a year of eligibility.

In 14 seasons with Bo Ryan at the helm, a whopping 24 players have redshirted at Wisconsin for various reasons. Seventeen have done so voluntarily (not because of an injury, illness or transfer rules) to simply to maximize their playing time down the line. The number of total redshirts has gone up dramatically in recent years, with 12 taken in the last four seasons alone.

One typical -- and unfortunate -- scenario for taking a redshirt season is due to injury. Badger greats like Josh Gasser and Alando Tucker have endured the experience, along with contributors Jason Chappell and Andreas Helmigk. You could also throw Duje Dukan in that category since he sat out the 2012-13 season because of a bout with mononucleosis.

Dukan returns to action Wednesday night for his senior season debut after serving a much-criticized suspension stemming from exhibition minutes played during his redshirt season. However, it also made some sense for Dukan to redshirt two years ago regardless of the mono because, much like Happ, he was facing limited opportunities behind UW's loaded frontcourt. The logjam for minutes that season was caused by two previously redshirted players, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, who became integral parts of the team as upperclassmen.

Though typically used by scholarship athletes who need to physically develop or recover before contributing, many walk-ons, like Schlundt, have started to take redshirts as well. Five players during Ryan's tenure have (Schlundt, Aaron Moesch, Jordan Smith, Zak Showalter and Brett Valentyn), plus another two high-caliber walk-ons (Sharif Chambliss and Zach Bohannon) who transferred from other programs.

Wisconsin's track record

So, how successful is the practice of redshirting healthy players? That depends on how you look at things.

You could argue the success rate is only 33 percent right now.

Out of 17 players who were on scholarship during their redshirt season, 12 made the choice primarily to develop their skills and their bodies to get into a better position to earn playing time. Six of those 12 traditional redshirt situations ended as busts. Four redshirted players left the program within two years after sitting out. Two more (J.P. Gavinski and Evan Anderson) were massive centers who never developed.

The jury is still out on the three most recent scholarship redshirts: Happ, Hill and Riley Dearring.

On the other hand, the three successful cases have been exceptional. Berggren, Evans and Brian Butch all earned some type of All-Big Ten honors during their careers. About the only commonality between them was that they played in the frontcourt. Butch was a McDonald's All-American, Berggren was barely a Top 100 RSCI recruit and Evans basically had to recruit himself to Wisconsin based on his raw athleticism. They are the exception rather than the rule, yet the trio probably justifies the redshirting tradition on its own to a large degree.

By the same token, with 156 Big Ten wins and counting at Wisconsin, Ryan is probably thinking, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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Both Hill and Happ certainly have the potential to go down as successes after sitting out this season, though what we've seen so far definitely points to a bright future for Happ in particular. Happ was very conflicted about redshirting because he had already shown potential to contribute right away. But ultimately, he's comfortable playing much more as a fifth-year senior than he would as a true freshman.

As a result of the increased usage of redshirting, there will be six former redshirted player on the active roster in 2014-15. And that isn't unusual, really. There haven't been fewer than two previously redshirted players on the roster at any time since Bo Ryan was hired. In fact, in 2012-13, three previously redshirted players began the season as starters for Wisconsin: Berggren, Evans and George Marshall.

Fans can go on and on debating which players should (or should not) have taken redshirt seasons in retrospect. But regardless of which players pan out best, one thing we know for certain is there will be a deep pool of seasoned, redshirted veterans ready to contribute as needed down the road.

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