August 16, 2023

Leaving Home After Playing at PHS, Coaching at PU, Ettin Headed West to Join Staff of UC Santa Barbara

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Skye Ettin shows his joy after helping to coach the Princeton University men’s basketball team to an upset win in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento, Calif. Ettin, a former Princeton High and The College of New Jersey hoops standout who was on the coaching staff of the Tigers for eight years starting as the director of operations and getting promoted to assistant coach in 2016, recently left the program to take a similar position at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

By Bill Alden

Skye Ettin’s basketball life has revolved around the Princeton area.

Growing up in Princeton, Ettin attended Princeton University basketball camps as a kid, honing the skills that would make him a star for the Princeton High boys’ basketball team. After PHS, Ettin played college hoops a few miles from home, enjoying a superb career for The College of New Jersey men’s hoops program.

Upon graduating from TCNJ in 2015, Ettin returned home to join the staff of the Princeton University men’s hoops team as its director of operations. He quickly moved up the ranks, becoming an assistant coach a year later.

But in the wake of helping the Tigers advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 this March, Ettin, 31, decided it was time to leave home and go west, taking a job as an assistant coach for University of California, Santa Barbara men’s hoops team as he pursues his goal of becoming a Division I head coach.

For Ettin, leaving home is bittersweet as the attraction of the new opportunity is balanced by saying goodbye to his longtime stomping  ground.

“I am a Princeton guy, but I needed to grow in a different way,” said Ettin. “I have lived in the area my whole entire life. I have never been away really. A part of it is the excitement of doing something outside the Ivy League. The Ivy League has really good basketball and really good coaching. You are dealing with the most amazing kids in the world. That is hard to leave.”

Getting the chance to coach at Princeton has been an amazing experience for Ettin.

“I am so fortunate to have coach [Mitch] Henderson as a mentor, he is someone that allowed me to grow and supported my growth,” said Ettin. “You just really learn to be a professional in every way. I came right from college to join Princeton men’s basketball as director of ops. It was a really great opportunity for me to just learn and listen and transition. It was a great staff. Brian Earl (now head coach at Cornell) was the associate head coach at the time. Brett MacConnell has been there and Brett is the best of the best. I got to learn from two really, really high level assistants and obviously watch coach Henderson every day and the way he approaches things. There was just no better atmosphere for me to grow.”

The main lessons Ettin learned centered on the day-to-day cultivation of the team culture and players.

“It is how you run a Division I program at a very high level,” said Ettin. “You learn to be consistent, you learn how to teach. Coach Henderson has always echoed the messages that coaches are teachers first and foremost. I learned to be a teacher. I learned how to approach the guys and teach the guys and coach them hard, but also love them hard.”

Over the years, Ettin developed some deep bonds with the guys.

“Princeton is very much of a family, that is the culture that has been in place for a long time,” said Ettin, noting that he recently got together with several former players on a recruiting trip to Las Vegas as they cheered on Tosan Evbuomwan as he competed for the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Summer League.

“Coach Henderson has elevated that culture. For me, I was coming into a family and then it was being part of a family. All of the guys who I have gotten the privilege to coach I feel really connected to and are lifelong friends. I still talk to a lot of the guys who have graduated and keep in touch with those guys.”

In reflecting on the historic run by last year’s Princeton squad which saw it become the fourth No. 15 seed to make the NCAA Sweet 16, Ettin pointed to the connection between the players as a key factor in that success.

“That group was so close; obviously we were really talented too, so I don’t want to take that away from them,” said Ettin, an integral part of the staff as Princeton became the 11th No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed with a 58-55 win over Arizona and helped guide the Tigers to the largest-ever margin of victory for a No. 15 seed with a 78-63 triumph over Mizzou in the Round of 32.

“What gets you to have the success that we did it is just how connected the group was and that starts with coach Henderson. He is unbelievable at building those teams and those cultures. The guys embraced it and they embraced the grind of, ‘Hey, we are not a finished product yet throughout the season.’ They embraced that and we had really good leadership at the top. Matt Allocco first and foremost leading the group along with Tosan and Ryan Langborg and Zach Martini. Those guys set the standard and the culture of the group and that got us to where we went.”

For Ettin, the experience of helping to coach the Tigers to such heights was a great learning experience.

“It was amazing, you beat Yale in the Ivy championship and you are so excited,” said Ettin. “You know you are going to the NCAA tournament. You have this feeling of it doesn’t matter who you play and all of a sudden you see Arizona. It goes from the excitement of OK, we are in the NCAA tournament to how do we beat these guys. The Ivy League is one of those leagues that is most prepared in the sense that we are used to playing back-to-back with short turnarounds. Our staff was really well prepared to come up with the game plan in a short time with short prep. We also had a staff that has been together for a long time with Mitch, Brett, and myself and our director of ops, Chris Mongilia. The cohesiveness of our staff helped put the plan together and then you combine that with a group that was so locked in and so together that they could execute those things in a short turnaround.”

In taking the UCSB job, Ettin is joining a staff that he had become familiar with through his recruiting duties. 

“I had been recruiting a lot of the West Coast here at Princeton — that had been one of my areas where I had been recruiting quite a bit,” said Ettin. “I got to know the head coach at Santa Barbara,  [Joe] Pasternack. I developed relationships with them throughout my time. They had a spot open, so they reached out. It was a hard decision. I went back and forth about it. I knew it was an opportunity to do something a little different and expand. I took a little bit of a leap of faith, going across the country and not knowing anyone.”

Saying goodbye to Princeton was understandably very difficult for Ettin.

“That was really hard. I was pretty emotional to be honest,” said Ettin. “It is where I have grown up. I was so fortunate. I am in debt to coach Henderson for life after he gave me that opportunity. He has been so good to me, helping me grow and really being a mentor in my process. It was really hard to say goodbye.”

Since arriving in Santa Barbara, Ettin has been leading a busy life.

“I got out here right around July 10 and I was on the road in Las Vegas for a recruiting event that went to July 15,” said Ettin. “The following week I was in Serbia for an international U18 tournament. Here at Santa Barbara, they have done a great job recruiting internationally. It has been nonstop for sure.”

It has not taken long for Ettin to start developing bonds with his new players.

“They are here — we are actually going to Canada for our foreign tour, which is really good for me to get an opportunity to learn,” said Ettin. “We have been in pretty much practice or workout mode since I have been here, so it has been good.”

Long-term, Ettin is viewing the opportunity to coach at UC Santa Barbara as key step in his ultimate goal of guiding a college program.

“I want to be a head coach, and that will help me holistically in my journey to be a Division I head coach,” said Ettin. “It is going to be similar to having scouts like I did at Princeton. I will also work with the offense a lot and the guards. It is seeing a different coaching style, a different way of thinking and being exposed to a different way of recruiting because the Ivy League is a very unique place to recruit. It is an opportunity for me to grow in a different way.”

With the Gauchos having gone 27-8 last season and making the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, Ettin is looking to experience the kind of success he enjoyed with the Tigers.

“We have high expectations here. We return the Big West Player of the Year, Ajay Mitchell, who is a really talented guard,” said Ettin. “We have some really good transfers and a couple really good returners. There are really high expectations around here and coach Pasternack has done a great job of building this program to one of the best mid-major programs in the country.”

But even as Ettin toils at his new job in California, his heart will still be in Princeton.

“For me, it had to be a really special opportunity for me to leave a place like Princeton, which is home,” said Ettin. “Mitch has been so great to me. I loved it there. I really do love Princeton, and that will always be home for me.”