Austin Etherington might have been gone for a while, but he clearly wasn't forgotten.
In two years at Hamilton Heights (Ind.) H.S., the 6'6" wing has played in just 15 games – two at the start of his freshman season and then the final 13 of his recently-completed sophomore campaign. In between, he was sidelined for more than a year while recuperating from microfracture knee surgery, a procedure to repair damaged knee cartilage.
"He could have still played, but it would have been with some pain," said Hamilton Heights Coach Chad Ballenger. "They decided it was best to go ahead and get it taken care of now. If he'd kept playing, we might have seen him having to do it as a junior or senior."
While the "big picture" suggested the procedure was the right thing to do, it still didn't make it any easier for a player who had started the first two games of his high school career before deciding to put things on hold for more than 12 months.
"It's extremely tough for a kid like that when all he really knows is basketball and it's what he's always dreamed of doing," Ballenger said.
Those tough times are now behind him. The procedure was a success, the rehabilitation is complete, and Etherington is now re-introducing himself as one of the top in-state players in the 2011 class. He averaged 15.7 points and seven rebounds after his return this season, including 22.0 points per game in Hamilton Heights' final four contests. He's also turning heads on the AAU circuit, where he's one of the primary scorers on Mark Adams' loaded Team Indiana Elite 16-and-under squad which recently finished second at the IndyBall.com Shootout.
Etherington's productivity isn't a huge surprise considering he was a well known prospect when he was in the junior high ranks, but there's still a degree of relief following such a long stint away from the game.
"He was kind of worried if after the surgery that he'd be as good as what he was," Ballenger said.
With that question now answered, college programs have been making frequent stop-offs at Hamilton Heights to see him work out. Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Xavier, Ball State and Northwestern are among the schools that have been in to see the son of former Indiana All-Star and Butler player Brett Etherington.
Both IU head coach Tom Crean and assistant Tim Buckley have been in to see Etherington, and Ballenger said there's plenty that both like about his game.
"The upside to them is his strength at shooting the ball," Ballenger said. "He shot the 3 really well when he's been in. Talking to them, that's the thing they've been pleased with."
Etherington combines that shooting ability with a frame that allows him to play inside as well at both Hamilton Heights and on his AAU team, Team Indiana Elite.
"I know at the next level he's going to be a perimeter player, but we try to take advantage of the mismatches that are provided to us," Ballenger said. "We play him inside a little bit because he has the body to be a post player. But for the most part he played on the perimeter."
No programs have offered a scholarship just yet, but that figures to change before long once more people have a chance to see him play during the AAU season.
"He's an unbelievable talent that I think is only going to get better," Ballenger said. "You're talking about a kid who sat out a year that is just now finding his groove."
Etherington Getting Healthy Dose of Attention
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