A few weeks ago, Joey Hauser was where he was supposed to be: standing on Stevens Point Area Senior High's home basketball court, being acknowledged with the rest of his fellow seniors for the hard work and dedication they’d shown over their prep careers, helping SPASH win three consecutive state titles. Unlike the rest of the seniors, however, Hauser was not in uniform; in fact, he technically wasn’t even a student at the high school anymore.
Hauser was supposed to be in uniform. He was supposed to be chasing his fourth state title right now and, this summer, heading off to Marquette University to join forces with his brother, Sam, to chase new basketball dreams. But plans changed.
In December, Hauser badly injured his ankle, which required surgery to repair torn cartilage and prematurely ended his final season. Then in January, he graduated high school early and enrolled at Marquette for the spring 2018 semester, taking advantage of an open scholarship the team had.
The day after his SPASH senior night, Hauser was back at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee, where he has been able to rehab his ankle with Marquette trainers. As he went through his exercises, though, nostalgia overtook his mind. He longed to be back in Stevens Point, feeling the excitement around the town and school as the Panthers prepared for the state tournament, which starts this Thursday in Madison without SPASH.
"My first day when I came back from senior day was a really tough day for me," Hauser said. "Being at practice, I felt like I was in the wrong spot. The coaches really help me out, reminding me why I am here, why I did this, to better myself and get right, finally, with my ankle.
"That part has been really tough, but that’s kind of what I have to do: remind myself why I am here, prove myself and get a jumpstart on incoming freshman year."
That contemplative 24 hours has epitomized Hauser’s first month at Marquette: the desire to still be a high schooler, mixed with strong concentration and determination to become an elite college player.
Hauser has yet to participate in basketball workouts. His rehab focuses on strengthening his ankle, calf and hips, as well as improving mobilization. He is only able to shoot free throws because his ankle cannot yet withstand the pressure of a jump shot. While Hauser had gone through similar exercises, he'd never been undergone such an intensive rehabilitation.
"Sometimes muscles you never even knew you had start to fire up and you are like, ‘Dang it, I never really used that one. It’s pretty weak," Hauser said. "That part of it, just knowing you are getting better and strengthening your body to improve my injury, is definitely what the main focus is. It’s all worth it."
Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski, whose team is preparing to host Harvard in the first round of the NIT at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday, has been impressed with Hauser’s approach.
"I see a guy who when he is told to do something he attacks it with all his might," Wojciechowski said. "Whether that is his physical therapy, or him in the weight room. All of those characteristics will allow him when he is healthy to be a phenomenal basketball player."
Off the court, Hauser didn’t have a summer to transition from high school to college. After spending the first part of the school year in class all day long, Hauser now has a regular college schedule of classes spread throughout the day.
"It is definitely an adjustment," Hauser said. "High school senior year is not that hard. Classes are pretty easy. You have one or two that are hard, a lot of off periods, so it’s been different. You don’t have class for as much time, so you have time to do your homework. I don’t know it was a tough adjustment, not from the school side; emotionally, it is different. I’ve gotten the gist of it."
The transition has been somewhat easier for Joey because he has had his brother Sam, a sophomore starter for the Golden Eagles, to lean on.
"I knew I would be a lot more comfortable because he was here," Joey said. "Just getting acclimated with everything."
But Marquette is still 155 miles from where Hauser thought he would be at this time.
"I mean, he should be pursuing his fourth straight high school championship," Wojciechowski said. "He should be going down as one of the best high school players to play in Wisconsin history. That is not lost on me."
An all-state performer the last two seasons, Hauser averaged 23.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game as a junior en route to Stevens Point Area Senior High's third consecutive championship in 2016-17.
"I just miss going to school every day, coming home to my parents and having a home-cooked meal from my mom. I miss all of that. I miss the high school practices," Hauser said. "It is all worth it in the end."
It is all worth it. Hauser keeps saying it. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Or maybe it is because one of Wisconsin’s best high school basketball players is ready to emerge as one of the best college players in the state, when and where he's supposed to do it.