Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
After taking an unofficial visit to Ohio State seven months ago, Kalen Etzler told Eleven Warriors he used to say, “I want to play for the Buckeyes,” when asked what he wanted to do when was older.
Check that off the list. He committed to Ohio State on Sunday.
The power forward is the No. 51 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, and he becomes the first player to join the Buckeyes for that class. Given his ability and frame that screams potential, he's an important addition to the program. But his status as one of the top-rated in-state prospects also matters.
Chris Holtmann has locked in one in-state prospect in each class thus far – Canton's Kyle Young in 2017, Versailles' Justin Ahrens in 2018 and Cleveland's Alonzo Gaffney in 2019. Even though there's a chance the Buckeyes don't land any Ohioans in 2020, Etzler will continue the trend in 2021.
On the court
When asked about Gaffney about a month ago, Holtmann used the word "potential" to describe him, noting Gaffney's probably sick of hearing it. Etzler, also a long-limbed, wiry forward, has heard similar sentiments and even compared his game to Gaffney's.
At 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Etzler has a moldable frame that needs strength before he has a chance to play inside in the Big Ten. But that's part of the reason why he committed so early.
“Ultimately, if I commit now, I can get my work going,” Etzler said. “They can tell me what I need to work on. I can work on it and whatnot and get it all out of the way.”
Since he played point guard until reaching high school, Etzler has some guard-like skills, and he doesn't have the strength of a post player quite yet.
However, Ohio State views him as a power forward in modern college basketball, a source told Eleven Warriors. The Buckeyes covet his combination of size, athleticism and skill set at the position.
Etzler has multi-level scoring ability and has worked to extend his range in the past year.
“I got a little more consistent stroke, (something) off the dribble shooting-wise,” Etzler said. “Before, I played point guard in middle school, and I always tried to drive the whole time. Some games, I would get hot, and I'd shoot. I've developed a jumper and a big arsenal of moves.”
— Kalen Etzler (@kalen_etzler24) March 14, 2019
Holtmann and his staff have been aware of Etzler and his potential for years and had him in Columbus for four visits. They waited until Thursday to finally extend an offer.
"I think they were just holding off for a little bit to see how I developed as a player," Etzler said. "(Playing two weeks ago in) Atlanta was a little rough, but they must've saw something in me. He just said I need to get a little more toughness, fire, and try to get more aggressive down there, otherwise, the skill set's there."
In the class
Ohio State couldn't ask for a much better building block than Etzler.
He's the first top-100 2021 prospect to commit to any school, and he'll now serve as a de facto recruiter for a class that could have a heavy in-state presence. Three rising juniors in Ohio – Etzler, St. Vincent-St. Mary's Malaki Branham and Garfield Heights' Meechie Johnson – are in the top 75, and all three hold offers from the Buckeyes.
Etzler said he'll work to entice Branham and Johnson to join him in Columbus, and both players would fill a need.
After the 2020-21 season, the Buckeyes will graduate Kyle Young, whose spot will be filled by Etzler. They're also scheduled to lose CJ Walker, Musa Jallow and Kaleb Wesson. Ohio State is targeting a big man to eventually replace Wesson in its 2020 class, but there's an opening for both Branham and Johnson in the backcourt, if Holtmann and his staff can pull that off.
Here's a look at who Ohio State would have on its team for the 2021-22 season, not accounting for attrition, 2020 recruits or incoming transfers.
- Freshmen: Kalen Etzler
- Sophomores: No 2020 players committed yet
- Juniors: DJ Carton, E.J. Liddell, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo
- Seniors: Justice Sueing, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr., Justin Ahrens
Or, another way to look at it.
- Point guard: DJ Carton
- Shooting guard: Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr.
- Small Forward: Justice Sueing, Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney
- Power Forward: E.J. Liddell, Kalen Etzler
- Center: Ibrahima Diallo
Expect Ohio State to add a center in its 2020 class, for it's recruiting a group of rising senior big men.
But even if the Buckeyes land a 2020 big, they're currently in line to have three more open scholarships in 2021, not counting Etzler. They could have another class filled with as many as four freshmen, and now they have someone to build it around.
Few top-100 recruits ever have as many connections to a school as Etzler has to Ohio State. He grew up wanting to play for the Buckeyes, and now he'll have his chance.
Etzler's family is filled with Ohio State fans. While playing for All-Ohio Red this weekend, his father wore a Buckeyes hat while sitting in the crowd. Sure, his son having committed to play for them might have played a part in him wearing it, but Etzler said he'd have assuredly represented the Scarlet and Gray either way.
His uncle, Doug, played for Ohio State from 1991 to 1995. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.3 assists per game in his career. Before committing to play for the Buckeyes, Etzler talked to Doug about the decision, and he said he would have committed on the spot, like Etzler did, had he known they were extending a scholarship offer to him.
The next two seasons, Doug will coach Etzler at Crestview, where he was recently named head coach.
Etzler considered going the prep school route, but ultimately opted to remain at his hometown school and play for his uncle, despite Crestview playing in a lower high school basketball division.
"I can't do it," Etzler said. "I've got all the tools right there, so why leave?"
As a sophomore at Crestview, Etzler averaged 12.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He had 1.6 assists, 1.5 made 3-pointers and one block per game. He'll have a larger role as a junior after his team graduates eight seniors. Plus, he won't be playing with his brother, Javin, who will be beginning his collegiate basketball career at Miami (Ohio).