For two seasons, Jeremy Best has watched and helped Kalen Etzler grow into one of the top basketball prospects in Ohio. After stepping away from the head coaching job at Convoy Crestview, Best will spend the next two years watching Etzler progress from his seat in the stands rather than from the bench.
It’ll be an interesting transition after 17 years as the Knights’ coach, but he’s excited to see how the Ohio State commitment for 2021 continues to progress.
“I’m really proud of Kalen,” Best told The Dispatch. “He’s really just even scratching the surface of what he’s going to be able to do athletically as a basketball player. Obviously Ohio State recognized that right away and they’re getting one of the best players in the state of Ohio. It’s truly special for Kalen and his family.”
Listed at 6 feet 8, 195 pounds, Etzler is ranked as the No. 2 prospect from Ohio and the No. 51 national recruit in the class of 2021 according to 247Sports.com. As a sophomore, he helped lead Crestview to a state championship while continuing to develop his game and grow into his frame.
Best said Etzler grew nearly five inches between the end of eighth grade through the midpoint of his freshman year.
“He hit that growth spurt and in the last several months has really started to grow into his body physically with coordination,” the coach said. “I think he’s got tremendous upside with his body to put on some really good weight. He’s a high-energy kid. He’s got good bounce about his game, so that’s exciting too from an athletic standpoint. He can run up and down the floor, he can block shots, he moves laterally very well. He’s just a very athletic 6-8 young man.”
Etzler was pivotal in the run to the title, scoring 25 points in a regional final win against Maumee Valley Country Day School and 2020 Michigan commitment Zeb Jackson. He scored 14 points in the Division IV title game against Berlin Hiland at Value City Arena, his future home court.
“He hit multiple big shots,” Best said. “Rebounded well for us. Was a presence in the paint defensively, blocking shots, altering shots. He’s a young man that was fun to watch as the year went on; he improved exponentially from when the year started. He became more aggressive. He was not as passive as he was early in the year and I think he just felt more comfortable in his own skin as the year went on.”
Some of that was the product of being a sophomore on a senior-laden team, one that featured his older brother, Javin. He’ll be a freshman at Miami University this fall. Best said the upperclassmen welcomed the younger Etzler’s talents, which helped him grow more comfortable with becoming a go-to player.
“I think Kalen became very comfortable with that role as the year went on and really at times was our best player on the floor in a lot of situations, knowing we had a couple other guys who were pretty good players at the same time,” the coach said. “There were times Kalen would take over parts of games and that’s obviously going to continue as he moves through the next couple years of high school. He’s going to be dominant.”
For the last two seasons, Best said he used Etzler in multiple ways but primarily on the perimeter, where he played with his face to the basket.
“Kalen can handle the ball for us, he rebounded well and then he can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot it,” he said. “He’s just a diverse player. At 6-8 he handles it very well, he has the ability to get his own shot off the dribble so we used him in multiple ways, wherever we could find an advantage to get him an opportunity to be an advantage we definitely did that.”
Ultimately, it led Ohio State to offer him a scholarship last Thursday, which he quickly accepted before publicly announcing the details Sunday evening. The Buckeyes were among the first to offer Etzler, but Best said it was clear that Division I interest was growing.
“We had an indication of that as far back as last summer with some things that were getting going with him and some interest,” the coach said. “He’s already had a couple offers. He had one from Duquesne, he’d had one from Bowling Green as far back as his freshman year. Some of those things started to heat up with Kalen this summer and this fall with some other Big Ten schools: Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin had showed interest, Louisville as of late. So yeah, I had a pretty good idea that as long as Kalen continued to progress and show some of those things that they’re looking for at that level that he was going to have some opportunities for sure to play at that D-I level.”