ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — It’s not often you find a 6’8 freshman, or senior for that matter, walking around a Rockford area school, but Rockford Christian has one. Ethan Lathan is a legit 6’8.
“I’ve kind of always been tall since a young age,” said Lathan. “I just kept growing and growing and growing. I never really had a growth spurt.”
“He’s been here through middle school at Rockford Christian and nope, he was always the biggest kid in the building,” said Rockford Christian head coach Isaiah Johnson with a big smile on his face.
Right now coach Johnson is bringing Lathan along gradually trying not to put too much on this freshman’s plate. Lathan plays some on the freshman team, quite a bit on the JV team, and he sees random minutes on the varsity team.
“He’s eager to play, but we don’t want to give him too much too soon and get him frustrated,” said Johnson. “We’re trying to find a happy balance.”
Lathan doesn’t have to conquer the Big Northern Conference as a freshman. As his coach says he’s on the four-year plan, and a couple years from now he could be a load for teams to try to stop. He’s already making an impact on the defensive end even when he plays on varsity.
“His defense is definitely up there. He poses a problem with his size and his jumping ability changing shots. It’s not just blocking it, he actually changes shots.”
Senior teammate Javien Hoover agrees that Lathan is already a major presence on defense.
“He runs the floor and protects the rim. When we put him in there to protect the basket, that’s what he does.”
Fortunately for Lathan the Royal Lions have some very talented upper classmen like Hoover. That lessens the temptation to make Lathan more of a focal point so soon. And Lathan learns a lot from those upper classmen.
“The seniors from here have been teaching me the ropes and pulling me through it.”
And those seniors don’t go easy on him in practice.
“They try and toughen me up. They don’t hold back on me at all. I’m cool with it.”
Lathan comes from good basketball bloodlines. His father Eric was a standout player for Jefferson. He showed off his incredible hops in a Gus Macker slam dunk contest more than 20 years ago.
Did Lathan know his dad was such a great dunker?
Yea he told me a little bit about it. He never showed me no video or anything, but my mom said he was a really good dunker back then. I didn’t believe him.”
Do you have his hops? Can you get up?
“I can jump higher than him.”
Last summer Lathan was on the Fred VanVleet 14-and-under Elite team that played in tournaments around the Midwest. That team won four of the six tournaments they competed in including the Wildcats National Classic. Lathan loved the experience.
“It’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had playing with people my height, people my skill level, going against people all around Chicago, dominating. It’s very fun.”
Not only is Lathan tall and perhaps still growing, but he can also handle the basketball, and he’s comfortable shooting from the perimeter. It’s not wonder college coaches are already showing interest in him and elite AAU teams are looking at him according to coach Johnson.
So how bright is Lathan’s future? I posed that question to Johnson.
“Oh boy, well, ha-ha, I’m not the first to say it because I’m the son of a coach and dad always told me you can’t teach size, and so he’s, he’s, it’s unlimited.”
NOTE: Lathan is just part of an amazingly talented freshman class of high school basketball players in Rockford this year. Four of his teammates from the Fred VanVleet Elite team…all freshmen are also thriving.
Tristan Ford is the starting varsity point guard for the Boylan Titans. Malachi Johnson is the starting two guard for Guilford’s varsity squad. Mike Jones logs a bunch of varsity minutes for Rockford Lutheran’s 7-0 team, and Randy Johnson is playing on the JV team at Jefferson. The next three years of Rockford basketball should be something!
(This story was originally seen on ‘Overtime’ our weekly half-hour high school basketball show in Rockford. Catch ‘Overtime’ live Friday nights at 11 p.m. on Fox 39. It’s also rebroadcast Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. on Fox 39).