Stephanie Hauser knew just how to occupy her toddler while she was teaching piano to children in Green Bay, Wis. All it took was a Nerf ball and hoop.
“He’d just shoot the entire time,” Stephanie said, “and he would hold his follow-through so perfectly.”
He still does. Indeed, Sam Hauser’s Twitter handle, @Big_Smooth10, describes him perfectly.
“Sam’s got one of the sweetest golf swings,” Stephanie said. “It’s effortless. It’s smooth. It’s really almost kind of pretty. And that’s what a lot of people say about his shot.”
They’ve said it throughout this college basketball season as Sam compiled statistics unprecedented in University of Virginia history, leading the Cavaliers to an ACC regular-season championship and an NCAA tournament bid.
Alas, those numbers transpired during a pandemic that limited attendance at UVA home games to 250.
“I wish, because our crowd is knowledgeable, I think they would have, in a bigger way, fallen in love with his game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “and appreciated the quality, the efficiency of his shooting, his unselfishness, his rebounding, all those things that you see on TV but when you watch in person [really stand out].”
Nearly three decades after his graduation from Wisconsin-Green Bay, Bennett remains Division I’s career leader in 3-point accuracy at 49.7%. He also 52.8% from the field and 84% from the foul line, rare completeness at any level.
If anyone is qualified to talk about shooting form, it’s Bennett, a member of Wisconsin basketball’s royal family.
Hauser’s Wisconsin roots were displayed earlier this month on UVA’s senior night, when the video board showed footage of him in the second grade, an oversized jersey dangling around his knees, doing shooting drills at a clinic conducted by his father, Dave. The form is textbook, learned from the countless hours the Hauser kids — Nicki, Sam and Joey — spent in the gym watching the high school teams Dave coached.
Like their parents, each blossomed into a decorated athlete, but no one shot it like Sam, whose first words were — Stephanie is not making this up — “Me shooty.”
“It came pretty natural to me at a young age,” said Sam, also an all-conference golfer in high school. “… Kind of just kept getting better as I got older.”
Sam played three years at Marquette, the third one with Joey, before transferring to UVA for his final college basketball season. It’s been his best.
Entering Saturday’s NCAA first-round game against Ohio, Sam is averaging 16 points and shooting 51.8% from the field, 43.4% beyond the 3-point arc and 88.1% from the line, all career-highs. No UVA player has ever completed a season in the 50/40/80 club.
Teammates Jay Huff and Trey Murphy could join Hauser in that select group this year, but Hauser’s overall numbers are better, especially given that he takes more shots and plays more minutes than the others.
At 6-foot-8, Hauser scores from long-range, midrange and at the rim. He can spot up, create off the dribble and maneuver on the low block.
Bennett has been blessed to coach elite shooters such as Joe Harris, Kyle Guy and, at Washington State, Klay Thompson. None had a 50/40/80 season in college.
“He’s … in the upper echelon for sure, although below me in my playing days,” Bennett said with a laugh.
Point guard Kihei Clark said he noticed Hauser’s pure form “from day one, and the way he can get the slightest separation and get his shots off.”
Hauser embodies unselfishness, occasionally to a fault, another reflection of his Wisconsin roots.
“I know his history growing up, where he’s from,” Bennett said. “He thinks the game. You just watch how he plays. He understands … when to be aggressive, all aspects of it.”
The NFL’s Green Bay Packers dominate the state’s sports landscape, but Wisconsin basketball has a rich heritage as well, much of it centered on the Bennetts.
“The Bennett name in Wisconsin is pretty profound,” Hauser said.
Indeed, Dick Bennett coached the game for more than three decades in the state, first in high school, then in college at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin. He steered Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four. His brother, Jack, guided Stevens Point to consecutive NCAA Division III national championships.
Tony Bennett played for his dad at Green Bay, worked on his staff at Wisconsin and Washington State, and has elevated reigning national champion Virginia to college basketball’s elite.
Dave Hauser competed against Tony Bennett in high school, as did Stephanie Hauser’s brother, Barry Fermanich. Dave and Barry were teammates at Division II Minnesota-Duluth, which is how Dave and Stephanie, a volleyball, basketball and softball player at Division III Wisconsin-Superior, met.
The coincidences and connections border on providential.
Both Wisconsin natives, Dave and Stephanie coached multiple high school sports before settling on basketball and volleyball, respectively, when they started a family. Dave coached their daughter Nicki’s basketball team at Stevens Point Area Senior High, resigned after her graduation and joined the boys team as an assistant coach to be with Joey and Sam. He’s now a junior high athletics director, and Stephanie is an assistant director with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Nicki played volleyball at Southern Connecticut State and now serves as director of operations for North Dakota State’s program.
Joey transferred from Marquette to Michigan State, which faces UCLA on Thursday in the NCAA tournament’s First Four.
Think the Hausers had a stressful Selection Sunday? Michigan State was on the bubble, among the last four at-large teams selected to the NCAA bracket, while UVA was, and remains, in COVID-19 quarantine after a positive test at the ACC tournament.
As a high school junior, Sam took an official recruiting visit to Virginia, lured by the school and his family’s connections to Bennett. But he didn’t want to stray that far from home.
After three years at Marquette — he was second-team all-Big East as a junior — distance from home didn’t matter.
He was ready for UVA, sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules and earned first-team all-ACC this year.
Hauser called his redshirt season of 2019-20 “humbling,” but Bennett saw an already accomplished player refining his craft.
“Sam’s a pro,” Bennett said, “meaning he’s the consummate pro, just the way he approaches things. … He attacked all areas. He’s so purposeful and focused.”
The foundation of that work ethic? The source of that postcard jumper?
Bennett knows. He lived it. He drank it.
“It has to do,” he said, “with the water in Stevens Point, Wis.”