“I’m glad you guys put the best looking man in the house in the front,” Hayes said with his trademark smile. “It makes sense so that everyone could get a look. I’m glad I could do that.”
In reality, the presence of the Wisconsin basketball stars on the plush white couches inside the corporate aviation hanger for Kohler Co., was the result of their program’s dominance of the sports landscape in the state for much of the past two years. Having them so close to the stage allowed them easy access to accept all the awards that came as a result of that dominance.
With the show recognizing the accomplishments of 2015, and the first three months of 2016, the Badgers grabbed a total of six honors, highlighted by taking home the American Family Insurance Dream Team of the Year trophy, while Hayes’ and Happ’s former teammate, forward Frank Kaminsky III, picked up the ATI Athlete of the Year award.
“I’m grateful for many reasons,” Kaminsky said via video in his pre-recorded acceptance speech. “It was so much fun to be a part of the school and the athletics program. I’m very, very happy that we were able to make it as far as we did and represent our state in the best way possible.”
It was one of two wins for Kaminsky on the night, as he also grabbed the Marc Marotta College Athlete of the Year, named in honor of the former Marquette basketball star and civic leader in Milwaukee who passed away last year.
Thanks to its school-record 36 wins and national title appearance in the 2014-15 season, along with a run to the Sweet Sixteen last month, the program earned the title of College Team of the Year, presented by Fiduciary Management, and also picked up the Badger Liquor Moment of the Year with their victory over an unbeaten Kentucky team in the 2015 Final Four.
Not too far away from Hayes and Happ sat the pair of men who helped lead them to all that success -- head coach Greg Gard and former coach Bo Ryan, who was making his first public appearance in Wisconsin since abruptly stepping down after more than 14 seasons back in the middle of December. The duo would share the stage multiple times, including when they were named the Gruber Law Offices co-Coaches of the Year.
Prior to the show, Ryan was asked about his hand-picked successor in Gard, who took over a struggling 7-5 team and helped them back to the NCAA tournament for an 18th straight season, and in doing so earned himself a five-year contract to remain as Wisconsin’s head coach.
“It’s one of those things that you’d like to think every once in a while that you made the right decision,” Ryan said of leaving the program to Gard. “There’s other assistants that I’ve had that could do the job, but what he did in every position I put him in, whether it was running camps, head of recruiting or scouting. Whatever it was, his work was always top notch. He had it all going in.”
-- Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale didn’t win an award but did accept one on behalf of his sister, Arike, who earned the Goodwill Power of Work Girls High School Basketball Player of the Year. Ogunbowale said he knew early on how good his sister would be.
“I’d say when she played up on my basketball team,” said Ogunbowale, who was the Badgers’ leading rusher in 2015. “I’m three years older than her. She was the second-leading scorer on the team. Scored more points than me.”
Arike Ogunbowale, who just completed her freshman season at Notre Dame, scored a state tournament record 55 points for Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels in a semifinal win over Middleton in 2015, a performance some have called the best in state history. But asked who would win a 1-on-1 battle or in a game of HORSE, Dare Ogunbowale was willing to concede one to his sister but not both.
“In HORSE, she’ll get me,” Ogunbowale admitted. “She shoots way too good for me to beat her in HORSE, but anything else, I’ll still say I’ll edge her out on that.”
-- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels earned the Professional Athlete of the Year award, presented by Stella Artois, following a season in which he also got a four-year contract extension. But just because he got that big deal, don’t expect Daniels to be changed by it.
“I got my contract, and [I] was more concerned with how bad I played the week before and playing better the next week,” he said during the awards show. “So, yes, I’m just going to get better.”
Daniels was part of a unit last season that saw improvement from 2014, and head coach Mike McCarthy has talked about them taking an even bigger jump up to being a championship level defense. The fifth-year defender sees no reason they can’t.
“Last year we stepped up in ways that we haven’t in the past,” Daniels said. “If we continue to do that, then [the] sky’s the limit.”
-- In an appearance on ESPN Wisconsin prior to the awards show, Hayes spoke about his future and indicated that his plan is to come back for his senior year but that he intends to go through the initial draft process.
“I’d love to come back. My plan is to come back,” Hayes said. “The whole testing the waters thing is what it is. It’s testing the waters. That’s why they changed the rule to allow players to be able to do that.”
The rule change Hayes referenced allows players that don’t hire an agent to put their name in for the draft, take part in the NBA combine (May 11th-15th) and then allow them 10 days to decide whether to stay in the draft or return to school.
“I’m just going to continue from now on until the [NBA] combine, if I’m invited that is, [to] work to become the best player I can be,” Hayes said. “Whatever may happen with that happens. If nothing comes from that, then I look forward to having a terrific senior season.”
Hayes was a fringe first-round pick when the 2015-2016 season started, and though he led Wisconsin in scoring at 15.7 points per game and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, a decrease in his shooting percentage, especially from beyond the arc, has led many draft experts to say he’s a late second-round pick or could go undrafted.
“In the case that I have an extremely great performance [at the combine], and move up [the draft boards], then that’s a decision I’ll make then,” Hayes said. “But if that doesn’t happen, I’m still extremely content with coming back and having an opportunity to do something great my senior year.”
The deadline to announce your eligibility for the draft is April 24.
Full list of award winners:
Inspirational Person of the Year, presented by Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek
Hank the Dog, Milwaukee Brewers
Destination Kohler High School Football Player of the Year
Blair Mulholland, Kimberly High School
Goodwill Power of Work Girls High School Basketball Player of the Year
Arike Ogunbowale, Divine Savior Holy Angels High School
Rick Majerus Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year
Henry Ellenson, Rice Lake High School
High School Athlete of the Year, presented by Concordia University
Cole Van Lanen, Bay Port High School
Dani Rhodes, Waukesha West High School
Badger Liquor Moment of the Year
Badger Breakthrough – A year after a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Final Four, Wisconsin takes a 71-64 victory to dash the Wildcats’ dreams of a perfect season and earn a berth in the championship against Duke.
Homegrown Athlete of the Year, presented by Cousins Subs
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
College Team of the Year, presented by Fiduciary Management
University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball
Marc Marotta College Athlete of the Year
Frank Kaminsky University of Wisconsin
Small College Athlete of the Year
Katie Fiorilli, University of Wisconsin – Whitewater
Baird Community Involved Athlete of the Year
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Professional Athlete of the Year, presented by Stella Artois
Mike Daniels, Green Bay Packers
Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, presented by Wheels Up
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Gruber Law Offices Coach of the Year
Bo Ryan and Greg Gard, University of Wisconsin
ATI Athlete of the Year
Frank Kaminsky, University of Wisconsin
American Family Insurance Dream Team of the Year
University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball