Ohio State's Kalen Etzler hoping to make most of 'tough' decision to redshirt

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Kalen Etzler shoots a three-pointer while playing in the Kingdom Summer League at Northside Christian School on August 1, 2021.

Kalen Etzler had been committed to Ohio State for nearly a year when the conversation began.

It was the tail end of his junior year at Convoy (Ohio) Crestview, and the small forward wasn’t putting on weight like he had hoped. With the world in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Etzler and the Ohio State coaches started to look ahead at what his first season with the Buckeyes might look like.

Plans were put in place that would officially be announced by coach Chris Holtmann during his July 27 end-of-summer press conference. With a glut of experienced players ahead of him, and the reality that Etzler will need to bulk upin order to be effective in the Big Ten, he will take a redshirt for the 2021-22 season.

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Sunday, after scoring 12 points and pulling down nine rebounds while playing in the Kingdom Summer League at Northside Christian School, Etzler told The Dispatch it was a tough decision to make but one he feels is right.

“I just thought to myself, I might take a year off with (all) the seniors coming in and save a year of eligibility and then when I come in as a freshman hopefully have some freshman accolades,” Etzler said. “It’s definitely tough, especially coming in with guys I hope I could play with and get a taste of some games, even if they’re just a couple beginning-of-season games, but I know it’s the best thing for me.”

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The last player to take a healthy redshirt for Ohio State was Derek Funderburk. A four-star recruit ranked No. 73 nationally and No. 8 in Ohio, he sat out the 2016-17 season before being dismissed for the team for academic issues shortly after Holtmann’s arrival. He spent the 2017-18 season at Northwest Florida State College before signing with North Carolina State, where he averaged 11.1 points a game over three seasons.

Led by sixth-year forward Seth Towns, Ohio State’s roster is dotted with experienced post players. Etzler would have been vying for playing time in a mix that also includes Kyle Young and Justice Sueing, both in their fifth years, and third-year forward E.J. Liddell, a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Then there’s the weight. Etzler is listed at 6-8, 200 pounds on Ohio State’s official page, but he told The Dispatch he’s closer to 180 pounds. While at Crestview, Etzler said the Ohio State coaches were consistent in their message to him about his body: don’t stress about it. When you arrive, we’ll help you put weight on and make sure it’s good weight.

That process has already begun. Etzler said he’s spent a lot of time with the team’s nutritionist and the strength and conditioning staff since his arrival on campus earlier this summer.

A three-star prospect rated as the No. 150 national recruit according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Etzler has a few goals for the year.

“Obviously strength, and defense is probably No. 2,” he said. “I’ve got to learn a lot of the sayings on defense and different ball screens and all that stuff, and obviously I’ve gotta remember the plays. I’m going to take this time to talk to all of the seniors that we have, all the veterans, and just try to mentally improve my game.”

Among those veterans, Etzler said Young has been particularly helpful, and the two frequently schedule workouts together. Sixth-year center Joey Brunk, too, has been a help, he said.

While playing in the summer league, Etzler has seen examples of the kind of defense he needs to learn. Former Ohio State forward Andre Wesson, a versatile defender who is on the verge of signing his first professional contract, is one of Etzler’s teammates. Sunday, Etzler witnessed Wesson frustrate former Indiana forward Jerome Hunter, who will play at Xavier this season.

Etzler said watching Wesson play defense provides some extra motivation.

“I don’t know what level he was at as a freshman coming in, but I’m a little rough right now,” he said. “My length helps me a lot. Sometimes I’ll get beat and can block some shots, but the way he moves his feet gives me hope that I can get to that level and become an elite defender kind of like him.”

He'll have a whole year to work on it.

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