Tristan Etienne doesn’t do drama.
The towering 6’10” basketball star from Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary could have dragged out his recruiting process, trying to soak up every last ray of limelight, but that’s not how he’s wired. He’s an understated, team-oriented guy who’s practically allergic to hype in any form.
Etienne knew exactly where he wanted to go, and that was to the University of Washington to play for head coach Lorenzo Romar.
So when Romar called on Thursday morning to extend a scholarship offer, the 17-year-old gave his verbal commitment on the spot. He’ll sign his national letter of intent during the NCAA’s early signing period in mid-November.
“Washington was my dream school,” explained Etienne, who is going into Grade 12 at Mouat and will join the Huskies in the fall of 2014. “Part of it is that it’s close to home, but it’s also a place where I’ll be competing at a high level. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
Indeed, the Seattle-based program, which plays in the elite Pac-12 conference, represents a prime spot for Etienne to develop.
The Huskies have made six NCAA Tournament appearances over the past nine years, including three trips to the Sweet 16. The program has also sent a series of players on to the NBA – from retired stars like Detlef Schrempf and Brandon Roy, to current standouts like Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors), Quincy Pondexter (Memphis Grizzlies) and Nate Robinson (Chicago Bulls).
Etienne, for his part, brings tantalizing potential to the table. He boasts a fluid athleticism that’s rare for a man his size, and at the defensive end, he’s absolutely phenomenal as a help-side defender and shot blocker. His offensive arsenal is still developing, but already features proficient post moves, soft hands around the bucket, and a reliable 15-foot jump shot.
“Obviously he’s the best player that we’ve ever had at our program, and this is the biggest signing ever in our program’s history,” said Mouat coach Rich Ralston. “It’s one of the biggest signings ever in B.C. high school boys basketball.”
“There’s not many bigger or more respected programs (than Washington), and it’s remarkable that a kid from B.C. is going there,” echoed Pasha Bains, Etienne’s club coach with Richmond-based Drive Basketball.
“His best days are clearly ahead of him, when you look at the potential and the upside in two or three years. He hasn’t really lifted (weights) properly, in terms of just putting 20 or 30 pounds on him. With his grades, his character and how good of a team guy he is, I think he’s going to be a special player.
Securing a scholarship from a big-time program like the Huskies is impressive on its own, but in light of all Etienne has gone through over the past year and a half, it’s simply astounding.
On Jan. 11, 2012, he underwent open heart surgery to repair a four-centimetre hole between the two upper chambers of the organ.
It was a harrowing experience, to be sure, but his recovery was remarkable – he was cleared to return to game action just five weeks after surgery.
“That adds some legend to the story,” Ralston marveled. “It’s kind of hard to believe. But he’s a very resilient young man.”
Etienne went on to turn in a terrific Grade 11 campaign at Mouat. At AAA provincials in March, he averaged 20.2 points, 14.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 70.5 per cent from the field, helping Mouat to a fifth-place finish.
He’s continued his strong play this summer on the AAU circuit with the Drive U17 squad, which also features fellow B.C. standouts Jadon Cohee (of Walnut Grove Secondary in Langley) and Mindy Minhas (Sir Winston Churchill, Vancouver).
He’s helped Drive win high-profile tournaments in Bellevue, Wash. and Houston, Tex., averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks along the way.
Etienne’s recruitment really heated up over the past couple of weeks. With offers from Portland, Portland State and the University of California Irvine already in hand, he excelled at a camp at Washington State University and drew an offer from the Cougars – one of the Huskies’ Pac-12 rivals.
According to Bains, the pressure on Etienne was “insane.”
“They (Washington State) put a lot of pressure on him – like, it’s not going to be there forever,” he said.
“But Washington’s been recruiting him since he was in Grade 9. The first time Coach Romar walked into one of our games was when Tristan was in Grade 9, playing U15.”
That Etienne is staying relatively close to home puts a smile on the face of his mom, Mirjana Jurcic.
“Obviously it’s a bonus for me that I can probably make most home games, and that’s my plan,” she said. “But at the same time, I would in no way have stopped him from pursuing other schools if that’s what he wanted. This is about him, and this is about his journey moving forward.
“Tristan’s worked hard to get where he’s at, and I’m just glad he was able to get the school he was dreaming of all this time.”