There are a lot of things that have become exemplary for the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear, loss, uncertainty or awareness are only a few of things that have jumped to the forefront during these unprecedented and challenging times. One other notorious activity has been waiting. People are waiting on certain laws or rules to be passed, they are waiting for news, maybe for test results and of course they are waiting for a vaccine to come out among other things. Time has taken on a different shape in recent months for many people, one of them is Michigan State‘s redshirt junior forward Joey Hauser. He was used to a certain form of waiting. And is now kind of tired of it.
Hauser transferred to East Lansing from Marquette University in May 2019 and still hasn‘t suited up for the Spartans yet. First, his subsequent waiver appeal was denied, forcing him to sit out one season due to NCAA rules following a transfer. Second, the global pandemic hit and put not only the entire world, but plenty of sports, on hold, too. At the moment nobody is actually one hundred percent certain when college basketball will continue and in what form. For Hauser, this waiting game is especially tough, considering he hasn‘t played much basketball in the last couple of years. “Sitting out a year is hard, especially for someone like him who couldn‘t play his senior year in high school due to injury,” head coach Tom Izzo said, referring to Hauser‘s ankle injury that cost him his high school senior season. “He has only played one full season in the last three years, but believe me, he will be a special player.”
That special player is a true kid from the Midwest. He was born on July 17, 1999, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to his father Dave and his mother Stephanie. He joined a family of four living in the small city of Steven‘s Point right in the middle of the Badger State, including his older sister Nicki and his older brother Sam. The latter would prove to be quite a trailblazer for Joey as he would inspire him to also pick up the game of basketball at an early age. Humble, determined and with a typical midwestern work ethic the Hausers went on to truly legendary high school careers at Stevens Point Area Senior High. During his first three seasons under head coach Scott Anderson, Joey helped the Panthers win three straight state titles, going undefeated during league play all three years and finishing with an overall record of 79 wins to only 5 losses. As a junior, Hauser averaged 23.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game after sitting out the earlier part of the year with an ankle injury, crowning his spectacular campaign with 33 points and 22 boards in the state title game.
Hauser, a four-star recruit, had just committed to the Marquette Golden Eagles that year over the likes of Virginia, Duke, Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin and, of course, Michigan State, joining his brother Sam at the storied Milwaukee basketball program. Everything seemed to be going well and even better things seemed to be looming on the horizon. Yet everything turned out differently. Hauser injured his ankle again while playing football at the end of his junior season. It was another in a long list of seemingly minor ankle issues but this time it was serious. Hauser needed surgery to repair cartilage damage and he would soon learn that he would miss his entire senior season. “Joey was really upset, he was devastated,” his mother Stephanie commented. “He also understands the big picture. More than anything, he needs to be healthy again and be a hundred percent. This is the first step in a positive direction.”
That direction left Stevens Point and his heroic high school days in the rearview mirror and Hauser decided to enroll early at Marquette. “It was a difficult decision at first because I didn‘t want to leave my teammates and friends and coaches,” Hauser remembers. “But I knew the team would be really understanding and supportive and they have been.” His new teammates with the Golden Eagles also soon got to know the 6-foot-9-inch, 230-pound forward and what he could bring to the table. Hauser secured a starting gig early on under his new head coach, former Duke villain Steve Wojciechowski, and made the most of it. During his freshman year Hauser averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest, earning Big East Freshman Of The Week honors five times. He shot 42.5 percent from three point range and proved that he can be a dangerous weapon as a stretch four or even five. The year ended on a sour note though as the Golden Eagles were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by the fighting Ja Morants from Murray State. The soon-to-be top NBA draft pick put Hauser on a poster early in the second half, making his own foul-prone eight-point effort even more forgettable. Nonetheless, Hauser had proved himself on the big stage of college basketball, especially considering he was coming off a season ending injury his last year of high school.
Changes were in order though as rumors started to float around that both Hauser brothers weren‘t happy with the basketball fit at Marquette. Soon they made it known that they would like to transfer, originally in a package deal. Ultimately they decided to split up with Sam going to Virginia for his senior season and Joey choosing Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans, the program that was already among his suitors when he was still an uncommitted high school star. Even back then, both Joey and his parents had a soft spot for the heart of Izzo and everything he meant to his players. Joey especially. “Me and Tom Izzo are kind of similar,” he said with a smile. “We are from the same part of the country, we connect really well and you could say we are kind of alike.” Now playing for this man became the reality for Joey Hauser and the connection should shape “the next step” in his career. Again not everything went according to plan.
After initially not being interested in it, Hauser and MSU applied for a transfer waiver, which resulted in a long process of uncertainty. Shortly after the season started the NCAA decided to deny eligibility to Hauser, thus forcing him to sit out a year and preventing him from joining a roster that was ranked as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in school history. It was not only a blow to Hauser‘s dream of playing in green and white, but also a big surprise to his new coach. “I think Joey had a strong case and I‘m absolutely devastated if you want to know the truth,” Izzo said shortly before he resigned from the National Association of Basketball Coaches Board of Directors in protest.
Even with the backing from his coach, Hauser had no other option than to get to work. And he made a big impression on everyone in East Lansing not only with his advanced basketball skills, but also with his adaptability. “He goes upstairs, watches a bit of film of someone we want him to be and then comes in and brings it on the court,” Izzo raved about his work on the scout team. “He shoots it left, he shoots it right, he goes to the post or the perimeter, everything. We just marvel at him shooting 18-foot jumpers left handed.” As the basketball part came natural to the rather soft spoken big, going around campus wasn‘t as easy at first. “The biggest adjustment for me was making new relationships,” Hauser confesses. “I‘m not that great at it and it is definitely something I want to get better at. My teammates helped me out a ton though and they made me feel at home early on.”
And he returned the favor. He worked extensively with the younger players, especially fellow big man and incoming freshman Julius Marble. “I had a year of NCAA basketball under my belt and I felt that I knew what it was like coming in as a rookie,” Hauser said. “I was mostly trying to lead by example and help everyone out if I could.” It was easy to see what Izzo and the other coaches had seen in Hauser all those years back in high school. They not only liked his game, but also the overall maturity and the quiet leadership skills he possessed. On top of that they felt he was a true winner who would fit right in at a program that prides itself on just that. But way before any visions of the future partnership could really materialize, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit not only the world but also college basketball. Once again it meant uncertainty, waiting and no basketball for Hauser. At least no organized basketball.
He and his brother Sam returned home to Stevens Point and fortunately for them, their parents had just set up a hoop in their driveway. Out came the snow shovels and every day both Hausers worked extensively on their craft. Their dad got additional cardio and workout equipment and so the Hauser home turned into a mini sports complex overnight. Seeing his older brother every day kept Joey motivated. “Every time I saw him do something it made me want to do more,” laughs Joey, who also acknowledged how blessed they were by the opportunities their parents provided for them. “Seeing him lift or shoot makes me want to put in even more work and I‘m sure he‘s the same way.” The vice versa motivation also culminated in some light hearted fun, as both Hauser produced a trick shot video called “Quarantine Trick Shots” going around the entire house. As nice as it was for Hauser to spend time with the family, he couldn‘t wait to get back to East Lansing, to really start working toward his first action at the Breslin Center and to finally suit up for his new team.
What are you doing during your quarantine? pic.twitter.com/hnCvO8c2rD— Joey Hauser (@jjhouz24) April 11, 2020
Just as eager were the coaches to see their player, who figured to play a huge part in their plans for the upcoming season. When MSU started practicing again, Hauser wasn‘t disappointing. “He to me is the real deal, he can really shoot it, he‘s just an all around player, he can pass, he can handle it,” Izzo raved after practice resumed. “I expect him to have a big year.” Hauser had to work on quite a few things as he was entering Michigan State. He wasn‘t the most fleet footed defender and struggled a lot on that end, on offense he at times stayed on the perimeter too much and also didn‘t operate as fluid as you would hope at all times. Yet he tackled those areas of weakness in his time away from the real game action and he came back a better player. One who also had a lot of great traits to work with.
“I feel like my passing ability is something not a lot of people know about,” Hauser responded when asked what his biggest strength is. “That‘s probably the best aspect of my game.” His coach certainly agrees. “He‘s not only a good passer, he‘s a phenomenal passer,” Izzo chimed in, envisioning Hauser as a high post option to distribute the ball. “He‘s still a little quiet and we have to break him out of that. But this kid is going to be a special player and he is superseding all we thought he would be.”
Those words must be great for Joey Hauser to hear as they are certainly music to anyone‘s ear who‘s hoping for another strong season from the Spartans. In the end though, those are only words and Hauser wants a little more than that. He wants to play real basketball again. “I‘m going to be ready,” he said with purpose in his eyes. “I missed too much basketball in the last couple of years, I‘m ready to play. As soon as that first game comes around, whenever that will be, I will be ready.”
The waiting — even if it will take a little longer — will end one day. And what is that old saying again?
Good things come to those who wait.