FORT WAYNE, Ind. – It feels good to be home again for Kalen Etzler.
Midway through his high school career, the Ohio State verbal commitment from Convoy (Ohio) Crestview had initially swapped AAU teams midway through last season to play for All Ohio in the Nike EYBL. But just recently, the junior-to-be made the decision to switch back to his initial team, Indy Heat, where he suited up this weekend as part of the Gym Rats Basketball Association nationals and helped the team to a second-place finish in the platinum (top) division.
That, despite playing one year above his age level.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“This team is incredible,” Etzler told The Dispatch after an 84-50 win in pool play Saturday against Hidden Gems Black, a team primarily comprised of players from central Ohio. “I just loved getting back with this team. They were telling me, ‘Do you want to come play in a tournament with us?’ It wasn’t awkward at all because they wanted me back, too.”
Etzler said he remained in close contact with Luke Goode, a shooting guard from Fort Wayne Homestead and fellow member of the class of 2021 who has landed offers from Maryland, Illinois, Iowa and Butler, among others. The desire to play with him again helped make the return easier.
With an eye on his Ohio State career, however, Etzler said he’s hoping to help recruit other top talent from Ohio to join him and has two names atop his wish list: Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary guard Malaki Branham and Garfield Heights guard Meechie Johnson. Both four-star recruits in the 247Sports composite database hold offers from Ohio State.
“I really want Malaki to come to Ohio State with me, and if possible Meechie,” Etzler said. “He’s been hurt all year so I didn’t really get to see him. He was supposed to play with us so I didn’t really get to see him this summer. Malaki, he’s killing it right now.”
The 6-4, 175-pound Branham is rated as the No. 41 national recruit and top Ohioan in his class. Johnson, at 5-11 and 160 pounds, is Nos. 72 and 3, respectively. Etzler is ranked No. 7 in Ohio, No. 150 nationally and the No. 28 power forward in the nation.
In the win against Hidden Gems Black, Etzler showed off his athleticism with a number of high-flying dunks but mostly saw his perimeter shots fall short. After missing his first three three-pointers, he stepped into a deep one that found only net while his older brother Javin, who plays for Miami University, watched.
Since issuing his verbal commitment to Ohio State in mid-May, Etzler said he’s working on adding to his frame and preparing his game for a higher level of competition.
“I actually talked to Holtmann today and he asked what it’s like playing with the new team,” Etzler said. “I told him I loved it, I’m making a big impact on this team. We’re playing 17s right now but I still feel like I’m just playing my grade level, so I’m just going out and trying to do what I can. It does boost my playing level because I know I’ve got to take it up a notch because everyone’s stronger than me.”
He also recently made an appearance at a Nike Top 100 camp in St. Louis in late June that provided some motivation.
“It shows me what’s out there, that there’s other people just like me,” he said. “(It was) hard. Really hard, and tiring. I came back pretty sore. I took a day off, and then I got sick, so that forced me to take five days off.
“During basketball season, school ball, we play a slow-pace game. We run our sets. AAU helps me get out in the open and run some transition stuff, play with better players so I kind of get a feel for what college will be like instead of Division IV in Ohio.”