Incoming freshman Kalen Etzler checked off to-do list that led to Ohio State

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Kalen Etzler (5), shown here in a 2019 summer basketball game in Fort Wayne, Indiana, accomplished almost all of his goals before heading to Ohio State for his freshman year.

One by one, year by year, Kalen Etzler checked items off his to-do list.

As Etzler entered his freshman season at Crestview High School in northwestern Ohio, one of his AAU coaches gave him an idea. If he wanted to be great, the coach said, he should write down what he wanted from the game in the next few years and consult the list every day. Etzler did, setting the note as the background on his phone.

Win a state championship? Check. Grab at least 15 rebounds in a game? Check. Record a triple-double? Triple-check.

Also on the list: playing Division I basketball in college. It’ll be the last item checked off the list when he arrives at Ohio State this weekend to begin his freshman year after a senior season that unfolded mostly without incident amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was just thankful because all year coach would tell us, you never know, we could get a call tomorrow and have to shut everything down,” Etzler said recently. “I didn’t want that to happen. Even though I was packaged up and ready to be shipped out to college, I obviously wanted to complete my high school season with all my friends.”

The Knights lost in a district semifinal, but Etzler was named Division IV district player of the year and a first-team all-state selection after averaging 19.3 points per game. Along the way, he reached 1,000 career points.

Kalen Etzler, left, and his coach and uncle Doug Etzler pose for a photo after Kalen announced his decision to attend Ohio State in November 2020.

Just as important to Etzler, he got a full final season with his teammates. Crestview had one game postponed because of the pandemic, but it was able to be rescheduled. Its lone playoff win came on its home court, a first in school history.

“We beat both of our rival schools,” he said. “One of my best friends, our post player, had 28 (points) and that was real fun to watch. I was hoping he’d hit 30.”

Listed at 6 feet 8, 180 pounds, Etzler is a three-star power forward prospect, ranked No. 150 nationally and No. 4 in Ohio, according to the composite database. Etzler, who committed to Ohio State in May 2019, said that while he knows he will need to put on weight when he gets to college it has not been something coach Chris Holtmann has told him to worry about.

It’s an approach Etzler said he appreciated as he tried to enjoy his final season at Crestview.

“I usually just eat small meals throughout the day,” he said. “It’s been hard trying to drink a lot of calories and burn the calories and put calories back on. My weight will (fluctuate) anywhere from 178 to 185 every single day. It just goes up and down. It’s frustrating, but I trust that when I get there it’ll pack on pretty fast.”

That point was hammered home recently when Ohio State center Zed Key, who just completed his first season with the program, accompanied classmate Meechie Johnson Jr. to Etzler’s graduation party. Key, listed at 6-8, 245 pounds, wound up staying for an extra day, which got Etzler thinking.

“Someone of that size reminds me though that I need to put weight on soon,” Etzler said. “Zed coming down (recently) was really cool. I’m happy with the way we run things and how the culture is because Zed’s a really, really cool kid. He’s probably my best friend on the team thus far.”

Etzler said he’s slated to be roommates with Johnson, Key and fellow freshman Malaki Branham.

“I’m really excited about them,” Holtmann said in March when asked about Branham and Etzler. “Kalen has long-term potential, we feel like.”

Now it’s time for a new set of goals on bigger stage. But while Etzler crossed off most of that list from years ago, one remained.

“My goal was to score at least one 40-point game,” he said. “I just like sharing the wealth and I don’t want anyone to think I’m being selfish. Obviously I could go out and try to get 40, but who knows, maybe we go out and lose that game or it makes one of my teammates upset.”