Boulder City residents are beginning to recognize Eagles junior Ethan Speaker. Then again, so are Division I basketball coaches.
“We would go watch the junior high play when he was a sixth grader, and you knew there was an opportunity for him to be a pretty special player,” Boulder City boys basketball coach John Balistere said. “It’s a work in progress, but he kind of keeps checking the boxes and hitting the milestones along the way.”
Here’s another milestone Speaker is fixated on: becoming Boulder City’s first Division I basketball player since 1998.
The 6-foot-6-inch wing is averaging 24.7 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Eagles, including 30.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in Class 3A Sunrise League play. Count UNLV, Utah and Brigham Young as Division I schools interested in his services.
“Not a lot of people have done it around here,” Speaker said Wednesday, one day after posting 34 points and 20 rebounds against rival Moapa Valley. “It’s cool. It’s cool to see people recognize you off the court.”
Speaker grew up in the Henderson area before relocating as a sixth grader to Boulder City, where his father, Eric, works as a social studies teacher. He’s come to embrace the communal atmosphere the town of around 15,000 provides and has spent most of the past five years toiling away in its gymnasiums in relative anonymity, hoping one day a basketball scholarship would take him elsewhere.
Speaker averaged 5.9 points and 3.5 rebounds as a role player during his freshman season of 2017-18 and 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds as a starter last season. He ventured to the Tarkanian Basketball Academy last spring to try out for the Las Vegas Knicks, a local grassroots program that plays on the Adidas summer basketball circuit.
Program director Lamar Bigby hadn’t heard of him.
“We saw him at tryouts,” Bigby said, “and we knew we had one of the hidden gems of the city.”
Speaker sharpened his skills in the summer against some of the country’s best players on the Adidas circuit. He returned to his high school team a more skilled and confident player after his experience with the Knicks.
“Sometimes, I’m in this small community like Boulder City … I’m one of the best players in the community, it just gave me perspective,” Speaker said. “I’ve got to work harder. There’s kids in the country that are working harder every day, and I’ve just got to keep going if I want to earn my spot at the next level.”
At 195 pounds, Speaker loves to attack the basket and finish at the rim, a rarity in Boulder City. He’s a voracious rebounder and a capable 3-point shooter deployed by Balistere in a variety of roles that force him to advance his skill set.
He’s affable and coachable, Balistere says. Smart enough to understand and maximize his strengths, and mature enough to accept and learn from criticism.
“He realizes what his potential is. He keep things in perspective,” Balistere said. “He’s enjoying it, but I think he’s realistic about the process. I don’t think he’s in a rush. … He’s going to get stronger, and he’s going to get better.”