Two of the best players in the country are Badgers. That statement has been backed by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which announced on Wednesday that Wisconsin senior Nigel Hayes and sophomore Ethan Happ were each named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25.
Chosen by a poll of national college basketball experts, the list is comprised of 25 student-athletes who are front-runners for the sport’s most prestigious individual honor, based on their performances during the first half of the 2016-17 season.
Wisconsin is one of five schools with two candidates on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25, joining Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA.
Named to the Preseason John Wooden Award List earlier this season, Happ and Hayes are two of 14 players in program history to be tabbed as candidates for the award. UW has had six players go on to be named to the Wooden Award final ballot, most recently Frank Kaminsky in 2015, who became the first player in program history to win the award.
The second-straight season Hayes has been in consideration for the Wooden Award, the senior has continued to build on what has been a standout collegiate career at Wisconsin. The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, Hayes is currently the only player in the conference this season averaging at least 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. The senior from Toledo, Ohio, ranks second among Badgers in points (13.5 ppg) and rebounds (5.5 rpg), while leading the team in assists (3.2 apg). Hayes earned his first Big Ten Player of the Week honor earlier this season after averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game in wins over No. 22 Syracuse and Oklahoma.
In addition to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25, Hayes is also on both the Naismith and Lute Olsen Player of the Year award watch lists, as well as a candidate for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year and one of 30 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award.
A Preseason All-Big Ten selection, Happ is building upon his breakout freshman campaign and turning himself into one of college basketball’s best all-around players. A candidate for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award and the Naismith Player of the Year award, Happ was consensus Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season after becoming just the second conference freshman in over 20 years to average at least 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.
Through 16 games this season, Happ is the only player in the NCAA averaging at least 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Happ has made his way into National Player of the Year discussion, currently ranking fourth on Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year rankings.
Happ, Hayes and the rest of the players remaining on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 are considered strong candidates to win the 2017 John R. Wooden Award. The leading candidates will be further pared to 20 top players in early February before producing a final ballot in March. The winner will be announced in April.