There’s a moment before every University of Wisconsin men’s basketball game when the lights are dimmed, the hype video is playing and the players make a tunnel. On one end is the starting five waiting for their names to be called. On the other is Carter Higginbottom.
As each player walks through the tunnel getting high fives and butt slaps from the players in the tunnel, he stops at Higginbottom and they do a specialized handshake. They vary in length and sentimentality, but Higginbottom has all five — and one with Ben Carlson — memorized and ready to go before the game.
It’s not unusual for college basketball teams to do this. A majority of teams have a similar thing before games when they play at home. Teams sometimes do it on the road as well. The honor typically goes to the most animated person on the team.
“I just have a lot of energy,” Higginbottom said. “I think it was only right that I get that. The last person they see before we start the game needs to be hype, they got to get energy, gotta feel something. So I think it was perfect that I was that guy.”
Higginbottom said he collaborates with his teammates to make the handshakes. Higginbottom and the player will chat at the beginning of the season and decide what they’re doing.
They’ll practice once or twice before the first game of the season — or before a new player enters the starting lineup. The handshakes often are done in greeting when they see each other off the court, so Higginbottom said it’s not a lot of effort when it comes to game time.
Some players like a very flashy one, while others want it simple. Higginbottom said he throws in some of his own flair after he gets a baseline of what a player wants.
Johnny Davis’ handshake is something he’s been doing since high school but has more meaning since Higginbottom referenced Shannon Sharpe during one of the actions.
It’s a call back to the Denver Broncos tight end in 1996. Sharpe was on the sideline during a blowout game against the New England Patriots and picked up the phone and said, “Mr. President, we need the National Guard. We need as many men as you can spare because we are killing the Patriots. Call the dogs off. Send the National Guard please. They need emergency help.”
“It's a double tap then throw up the phone call and Higginbottom was like, 'Calling the president?'” Davis said. “‘Yeah, exactly like that.’ It’s just something to get me locked in. Boogs likes to do all that. He likes to try to amuse guys, be that humor guy on our team.”
Chucky Hepburn’s is arguably the flashiest because it's the longest. It ends with Hepburn turning around and Higginbottom highlighting the name on the back of the jersey. The pair then look at each other and pretend to put on suit jackets.
“It's kind of their personality as well,” Higginbottom said. “It's just them being simple or flashy. Chucky is more outgoing, more kind of swaggy, so he wants something nice.”
Brad Davison’s and Steven Crowl’s are on the more simple side.
Davison does a series of high fives and finishes with a hug.
Crowl said his is easy because he and Higginbottom weren’t sure if Crowl would start, so they had to make up something on the fly. Crowl said he was completely hands off when it came to coming up with something.
“I like Steve's a lot,” Higginbottom said. “It's high five, backhand, double high five, and right into the air punch, and we lock arms in the air. I like that one because … you kind of get him jacked, and it's cool to see a quiet guy get jacked about something.”
Tyler Wahl’s is on the sentimental side. The pair have been friends since Wahl first stepped on campus, and their handshake is the one they’ve been doing as long as they’ve known each other. It’s natural, easy and homage to their friendship before every game.
“We give each other a good hug,” Wahl said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, all right, here we go,’ right at the end of our handshake.”
Higginbottom said he has those five memorized, so it's just second nature at that point. The harder part comes when someone unexpectedly enters the starting lineup.
Jahcobi Neath started against Nicholls State, but Higginbottom didn’t have to worry about that because both he and Davis were unavailable for that game. Carter Gilmore stepped in to fill Higginbottom’s role.
Carlson started the team’s exhibition game against UW Whitewater, so Higginbottom had to come up with one for him. Other than that, it’s the same five handshakes every night.
“It's really not too hard to remember … because we see each other every day and we do our own handshakes when we greet each other,” Higginbottom said. “It sticks if you rehearse it once or twice right before the game. It's pretty simple to get down.”