Michael Foster is good.
Anyone who has seen the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward from Milwaukee Washington play knows that.
But we’re not talking about his immense basketball talent as much as everything else that comes with it. Ask him about the high expectations that surrounded his arrival at Washington or his transition to high school on and off the court and the 14-year-old doesn’t seem fazed.
He’s OK, he’s good.
“No pressure,” he said. “I just play.”
Those of us who want the future now, however, might have to pump the breaks a bit, though that can be hard with a player who is so far ahead of schedule.
How many freshmen earn a starting spot on the varsity in any program? Foster has done it for the area’s top-ranked team and one of the best in the state.
How many 14-year-olds not only have Division I scholarship offers in hand but have schools making special trips to Milwaukee to see him?
And how many freshmen can attest to posting a 3.0 grade point average in the midst of all that attention, while adjusting to a bump up in grade.
Foster, who skipped eighth grade, checks all those boxes.
“People are seeing a very talented young man, but they have to be patient,” Milwaukee Washington coach Freddie Riley said. “It’s a process. It’s like Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers center) without the injury. You’ve got to allow this process to take place. Mike has a lot to learn defensively and must continue to build offensively.”
Foster is part of a talented class of freshman players in the area. Sussex Hamilton’s Patrick Baldwin Jr., the son of the UW-Milwaukee coach, has generated a national buzz. Brookfield Central forward David Joplin received a scholarship offer from UNLV during winter break.
Foster raised his profile further last month when at the end of an unofficial visit to Arizona State he committed to coach Bobby Hurley’s program.
“When I went out there, I wasn’t planning to verbally commit,” he said. “But that the coach, on the players, is fiery and he lets bigs make plays. That’s what caught my eye.”
It is another Warriors player, however, that Riley thinks about when he thinks about Foster: Kevon Looney.
At a time when a lot of city players decide to attend suburban schools, Looney starred on the court and in the classroom at Milwaukee Hamilton, then spent one year at UCLA before jumping to the NBA in 2015.
“Mike is a good kid. He’s a gym rat,” said Riley, who was an assistant coach at Hamilton when Looney was a freshman. “Right now he’s leaving practice to go to a workout. He’s not going home. He’s not going to chill with his girl. … Basketball is his life right now. That and academics.”
Foster is Washington’s third Division I commitment in three years. Te’Jon Lucas, who shared the 2016 City player of the year award, is starting at Illinois and 2017 graduate Jalen Stephen-Holmes is playing at Chicago State.
Foster got a close look at those players while working with the Milwaukee Spartans club program where he is coached by Chianti Clay, his mentor, and former Washington standout Ewell Clinton. Lucas came through the Spartans program. So did Washington junior Deontay Long, another Division I prospect.
“Mike was in sixth, seventh grade playing against high school guys already,” Riley said. “So he’s not intimidated to play against Deontay because he’s played against Deontay the last three years. He’s been playing some really tough competition, and I think that motivates him to go work on things.”
Foster’s arrival at Washington came a year early. He took classes this past summer to complete the process of skipping the eighth grade.
“It was his decision. He wanted to do it. I was more opposed to it like, ‘Man you should play eighth grade,’ but he didn’t want to do it,” Clay said. “He wanted to go to high school and play. He wanted to get to high school now.”
It’s hard to argue with the results on or off the court.
Foster is on the verge of finishing the first semester of high school with a 3.1 grade point average.
He scored 19 points Friday night in an 86-74 victory over Milwaukee Madison in the City Conference opener and is second on the team with 17.2 points per game while grabbing about 12.5 rebounds per contest.
Foster was a force on the Purgolders’ recent trip to St. Hope Elite Classic in Sacramento, Calif. He earned all-tournament honors and won the DeMarcus Cousins Award as the tournament’s best post player after averaging 23 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks per game.
The kid is coming along and this is only the beginning.
“He’s still got a big ceiling,” Clay said. “Everything is new. Everything is raw. His ceiling is nowhere close to where it’s going to be in two years, not even close.”