MADISON – The 6th Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards brought the state’s best to Camp Randall Stadium last Thursday. Wisconsin’s best high school student-athletes, the big men and women on campus from every campus around the state, and the biggest stars from every professional team in the state, but yet Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari stole the show. Literally.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers climbed the stairs at the front of the stage to discuss winning the ATI Physical Therapy Athlete of the Year award with ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde, but Bakhtiari didn’t give him much of a chance to speak. As Rodgers prepared to sit down, Bakhtiari put his Space Jam 11 Jordans to good use and quickly found a spot on stage next to Rodgers and promptly took over the interview. Rodgers didn’t seem to mind, giving Bakhtiari three simple words of encouragement, “Go ahead, Kanye.”
After Rodgers allowed Bakhtiari to field a number of questions, he decided to take back control of the interview and talked about his love for Wisconsin sports fans and Wisconsin sports in general.
“It's great to be here tonight with so many incredible athletes who represent our state and our region so well and I'm really proud to be one of them. The thing I love about Wisconsin is the people. We have such incredible people here and it's fun to recognize the incredible athletes and coaches and supporters and sponsors we have tonight, but we also have incredible fans. And I know every team says that, but our Packers fans stuck with us at 4-6 - now the few of you that called into the radio show, I'm not talking about you guys - I'm talking about the ones who believed when we said we're going to run the table that we could actually do that. And you stuck with us. And you believed in us. And I appreciate you. And I love you. Thank you.”
Rodgers’ words rang true as his speech was just one of the many highlights from the biggest night in Wisconsin sports.
Carlini keeps winning
Volleyball star Lauren Carlini collected a number of honors during her career at the University of Wisconsin. She earned All-American honors all four years in Madison. This April, she became the first volleyball player to ever win the AAU James E. Sullivan Award, which annually honors the most outstanding U.S. amateur athlete. And at the Sixth Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards, she won the Marc Marotta College Athlete of the Year Award.
“Going into this year, it was just about my leadership, making the team as good as it could possibly be and going out there to try and win a national championship,” Carlini said while talking with ESPN Wisconsin on the Wheels Up Blue Carpet. “I think the biggest thing was getting to know people a lot better off the court. Previously, teammates couldn’t connect to me on a different level because I didn’t really get to them as a person off the court.”
Her improvement off the court apparently translated to the 6th Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards as well because she caught the eye of show stealer David Bahktiari. After the Green Bay Packers took home “Team of the Year”, Rodgers and Bahktiari encouraged Carlini to come back to the stage. Carlini obliged and soon found out that she had been called to the stage for a very specific reason.
“Will you go to Red Lobster with me,” Bahktiari asked.
“Only if you get unlimited biscuits,” Carlini responded.
No word yet on whether the two have figured out when they will get together or if there will actually be unlimited biscuits.
Hayes prepares for the NBA in Chicago
Last year, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ tore up the Blue Carpet together and told ESPN Wisconsin a number of fun stories, but Hayes could not join his running mate Happ this year. Hayes was, of course, participating in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
“I’m bummed,” Happ said. “I wanted him to come. They said he might fly out after the combine, but it’s tough. He’s like a brother to me, but I’m still going to have fun.”
In Chicago, Hayes participated in the normal Combine activities including measurements, drills, and five-on-five scrimmages. While NBA teams might have been most interested in the time they spent with him in individual interviews or his 7’3” wingspan (one of the ten longest wingspans in the draft), his friend Happ was more focused on what they saw on the floor.
“I watched him at the combine today,” Happ said. “Someone was in the post, he forearmed them real hard, and didn’t let them score. And then he had to guard someone on the perimeter. A lot of people just look at offensive statistics, but with Nigel, you need to look at the defensive side as well because he can guard one through five.”
Badgers coach Greg Gard, who went on stage to accept the “Moment of the Year”, presented by The Edgewater Hotel, had a chance to talk with ESPN Wisconsin on the Blue Carpet about Hayes’ NBA potential, as well as a number of other topics. Like Happ, Gard suggested that Hayes can only be a strong draft prospect if he gets serious about performing on the defensive end.
“He’ll have to find a niche,” Gard said. “The two comparatives we’ve used are Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard. He has to find a way to get there and then worry about his offense. There’s only about two stars on every team and the rest are all role players. He’s going to have to get his foot in the door being a role player and find that specialty area that really helps a team.”
Biegel’s success allows Johnson to dream big
In 2012, a linebacker from Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids named Vince Biegel won High School Football Player of the Year at the inaugural Wisconsin Sports Awards. After five years at the University of Wisconsin, he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
At the Sixth Annual Wisconsin Sports Awards, Darlington running back Hunter Johnson won High School Football Player of the Year. He will attend the University of Wisconsin this upcoming school year and become a member of the football team as a preferred walk-on. Despite being a walk-on from a small high school, Biegel’s success has made Johnson believe that anything is possible.
“All the people that came before me and the footsteps I’m following in, it’s a true blessing,” Johnson said. “Vince [Biegel] showed you can be successful. So, why not me, right?”
While Biegel has truly lived a Wisconite’s dream in playing for the Badgers and getting drafted by the Packers, Johnson is just focused on the first part of that dream: wearing the Wisconsin cardinal and white.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Johnson said. “Since I was a kid, I wanted to play for the Badgers. There’s no other team that ever appealed to me that I ever wanted to play for. All the legends that have come through here and made their name, I just want to be the next one.”
Complete list of winners:
High School Football Player of the Year – Hunter Johnson, Darlington High School
Rick Majerus Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year – Kobe King, LaCrosse Central High School
Goodwill Power of Work Girls High School Basketball Player of the Year – Estella Moschkau, Edgewood High School
High School Athlete of the Year, presented by Associated Bank - Danny Vanden Boom, Kimberly High School Football
Small College Athlete of the Year - Ian LaMere, University of Wisconsin Platteville Men’s Cross Country
Marc Marotta College Athlete of the Year - Lauren Carlini, University of Wisconsin Women’s Volleyball
Potosi Brewery Professional Athlete of the Year - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, presented by Wheels Up - TJ Watt, University of Wisconsin Football
Moment of the Year, presented by The Edgewater Hotel - January 24, 2017 & March 18, 2017 – The State of Wisconsin owns No.1 Villanova: first Marquette beats the top-ranked Wildcats, then the Badgers end their NCAA tournament run
Gruber Law Offices Coach of the Year - Paul Chryst, University of Wisconsin Football
ATI Athlete of the Year - Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
American Family Insurance Dream Team of the Year - Green Bay Packers
Fiduciary Management Gamechanger Award - Barry Alvarez
Community Involved Athlete of the Year - Nigel Hayes
Inspirational Athlete of the Year, presented by Husch Blackwell - Jabari Parker