Etherington Adjusting to Spotlight

Bloomington – Anonymity is no longer a part of Austin Etherington's life. If there was any about that, the 6'6" junior guard from Hamilton Heights H.S. had that fact reaffirmed when he made his way from his car to Assembly Hall Sunday afternoon for the Hoosiers' match-up with Minnesota...

Bloomington – Anonymity is no longer a part of Austin Etherington's life.

If there was any about that, the 6'6" junior guard from Hamilton Heights H.S. had that fact reaffirmed when he made his way from his car to Assembly Hall Sunday afternoon for the Hoosiers' match-up with Minnesota. As he approached his future home arena, it didn't take long for nearby fans to recognize the Class of 2011 commit and welcome him by chanting his name.

"He's only a high school junior, and when he goes down to Bloomington he's treated like royalty," Hamilton Heights' Coach Chad Ballenger said. "Austin is really level-headed and he doesn't really understand it, but I told him that's Indiana basketball."

Such is the life of an Indiana basketball commit. While the spotlight will shine brighter once he enrolls at IU in the fall of 2011, there's already been a noticeable difference since he committed to Indiana over the summer. Ballenger said Hamilton Heights' high school games are attracting bigger crowds, and the team is getting most opponents' best shots.

"We've talked a lot about having a target on Austin's back and our team's back," Ballenger said. "It's a challenge where kids are going to say, ‘hey, I went against Austin Etherington, and he's going to IU.'"

So far, Etherington and the Class 3A Hamilton Heights squad have been up to the challenge. After a 1-2 start to the season Ballenger's team has won eight out of its last nine, with the lone setback being a two-point overtime loss to Class 4A No. 10 Noblesville. Etherington has led the way, ranking among the state leaders in scoring (22.6/game) while adding 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per outing.

While Ballenger doesn't find it to be a huge surprise that Scout.com's 67th ranked player in the 2011 class is putting up such big numbers considering his array of offensive skills, he does find it impressive considering this is Etherington's first full season of high school basketball. Microfracture knee surgery sidelined Etherington for all but 15 games during his first two seasons at Hamilton Heights, and Ballenger said it's been a process for his standout to develop the confidence that he's fully recovered.

"I think the No. 1 thing is he's just getting healthy," Ballenger said. "From that standpoint, I feel every time he takes the court he gets better. Against Western Boone, he went up for a dunk and got fouled pretty hard and tumbled to the floor and jumped right back up. I think in the past he was scared something was going to happen. I think I see that fear going away the more we play."

In addition to that added confidence, Ballenger said he also sees a tremendously versatile offensive player. While Indiana recruited him as a wing and was attracted by his ability to score from the perimeter, he's also a very capable post player at the high school level. Ballenger has asked him to do that at times this season, and he's been more than willing to play with his back to the basket.

"I know a lot of times elite players, especially in this day and age, they don't want to be known as a post player," Ballenger said. "He's definitely not a post player, but he's doing what it takes for us to win.

"With his size, you can put him in the post, and Austin knows how to use his body in that way. He's a good, back-to-the-basket post up. When he catches it he can face up and take people off the dribble and use his post moves. At the next level, that could be a huge advantage for him."

While Etherington still has a 1 ½ years remaining at the high school level, IU Coach Tom Crean is already thinking about him in an IU uniform and putting those skills to use. In addition to that, the IU staff is also talking about the areas of Etherington's game that they'd like to see him show improvement before he arrives in Bloomington.

"Coach Crean has been talking to him about getting low to the ground when he makes his move and staying low defensively," Ballenger said. "Those are types of things we're trying to do with Austin."


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