By Miriam Garcia
San Fernando, CA
The tall glass windows illuminated the entrance of Jadwin Gym, and hip-hop music thumped in the background as I searched for the coach. In the dome-shaped main gym, lights beamed down, championship flags waved and players thwacked the ball down the court.
This is the second home of Skyelar Ettin, assistant coach for the Princeton University men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-3 coach was dressed in a black T-shirt that said “Princeton Basketball,” gray shorts and gym sneakers. He shook my hand firmly and asked where I was from. He had light brown hair, a fair complexion and a square face, and he offered a small smile.
Ettin is in a rare position. At 24, he is somewhat of an oddity in a world dominated by coaches twice his age. In his first year of Division I college coaching, he will try to help the team grab the Ivy League championship that escaped its grasp last year.
Born in Princeton, N.J., Ettin grew up playing football and baseball as well as basketball. When he was in high school, his father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and his mother had to juggle parenting Ettin and caring for her spouse. Ever since, Ettin said, “I look at the people directly in my life for inspiration.”
He played basketball at The College of New Jersey and was named team captain his sophomore year. He learned that being a good leader—and changing the culture of the team—meant “setting a precedent for how hard you need to work.” He and his teammates soldiered through early practices and many hours in the weight room. “I think that helped us succeed on the court,” he said.
His college coach helped him hone his leadership skills, but Ettin had always been a teacher. He coached elementary students when he was in middle school, middle-schoolers when he was in high school and high school students when he was in college.
Etin graduated in 2015 and joined the Princeton basketball staff. He was named assistant coach earlier this year, and he dreams of someday running his own team. Princeton colleague Kerry Kittles, a former NBA player, recalled that after a recent recruiting trip on the West Coast, Ettin sprinted home on an overnight flight and beat his co-workers to the office the next day. “This kid has a motor,” Kittles said.
Later in my visit, Ettin walked me to his desk, in the corner of a drab room he shares with other coaches. The space was empty, except for a single picture. It’s of a 12-year-old Ettin at a Princeton basketball camp alongside former coach John Thompson.
“It brings it all full circle,” he said, grinning at the memory.