OSKALOOSA — Outside of being a seven-foot, five-star basketball recruit in rural Iowa, Xavier Foster is a normal kid.
While the soon-to-be Oskaloosa High School senior has drawn nationwide interest — including from some of college basketball’s biggest powerhouses — basketball is not his only love, nor all he is about.
He likes fishing, helping with animals at the local fair, hanging out with his 120-pound pit bull, and making and eating cookie dough.
“Off the court, he is just your normal high school kid,” Oskaloosa head basketball coach Ryan Parker said. “Nothing different with him besides that he's seven foot and a lot of people know who he is. He’s a great kid.”
Statistics show him averaging a double-double, but yet his potential has those in the recruiting scene watching closely.
“With Xavier, it’s about his potential. Not what his points or rebounds are now, but what he could become,” said Tom Kakert, who covers recruiting for Rivals and HawkeyeReport.com.
“It’s about the raw talent and rare skill set of a kid who is seven feet tall, can step out and shoot threes with ease and protect the rim on defense. There just aren’t many prospects out there with that set of skills at their disposal.”
In his junior year, Xavier averaged 14.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game. He had more blocks by himself than all but four teams in Iowa did all season.
Among the top recruits in basketball for the class of 2020, Xavier has a busy schedule this summer.
He will be at the Pangos All-American Camp in California, which annually attracts 100-plus of the nation's top high school players as well as several of the top recruiting scouts in the nation, starting May 31.
In June he’ll visit Baylor, attend the NBA Top-100 Camp in Virginia, and an NCAA camp with Team Iowa in Missouri.
“I’m kind of used to it now,” Xavier said of his hectic summer schedule.
“It’s almost old now,” his father DeJuan said. “This is the fifth summer doing it. It’s getting old from my bank account’s perspective, but it’s fun and it’s an experience that we know what to expect.”
Nevertheless, it’s still safe to pencil in the Iowa State Fair in August into his busy summer.
That’s not a basketball recruiting trip, but a food and animal loving adventure.
“Pork chop on a stick and bucket of cookies,” Xavier said. “I want to get two this year, keep one in my room.”
“There is no reason for two buckets of cookies,” DeJuan butted in.
“Well, there is,” Xavier answered back with a smirk.
Xavier held a basketball at an early age. Like many kids, a Fisher Price basketball hoop was a mainstay in his home.
When he was around 5 or 6 years old, Xavier attended a soccer camp for his age group. There wasn’t much love between the sport and young Xavier after the first day when his father, DeJuan Foster picked him up.
“He walked up to the car and said, ‘I’m not doing that again. Too much running,’” DeJuan recalled, with laughter.
Xavier also tried out football, baseball and gymnastics. He says he can still do a backflip.
In middle school, he played trombone and the violin for the band and orchestra. Whether he played them all that well is up for debate.
“He played the violin so it sounded like a screaming cat for six months,” DeJuan said.
“He never played them outside of torturing us at home,” his father continued. “It’s just one of those things when you are in band or orchestra in middle school, you practice all year for the one concert that is the same night as the first baseball game. So, you can either go to the band concert or the baseball game. And baseball always won.”
Xavier couldn’t play either instrument if he had to today, he said. But he says he can still play Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” on the bass guitar.
This year’s persistent rain has kept Xavier from his favorite off-court activity more than he’d like — fishing.
Fishing has been a big part of Xavier’s life since he was young, giving him time away from thinking about basketball. He says he baits his hooks with anything from worms to shrimp. The stench of bait in his car on a hot day doesn’t bother him. It’s merely part of nabbing a good fish.
“I still have a bag of shrimp in my car,” Xavier said. “It’s been in there a while.”
“Just throw it away,” his mother, Kristi Foster, said in disgust.
“No, I’m still going to go use it,” Xavier persisted.
He’ll clean and cook his catches from his favorite spot on the river, too.
“I’m pretty basic though,” Xavier said. “I’ll add some butter, cornmeal and flour.”
His sister, Dasia Foster, who just completed sixth grade, doesn’t care much for fish unless her brother was the one behind the skillet.
“His fish is the only fish I’ll eat,” she remarked. “I don’t like fish, so I don’t know why I like his.”
The next item on the menu when Xavier is in the kitchen is another classic: cookies. Preferably in their non-cooked form.
“His go-to food is cookie dough,” DeJuan said, shaking his head. “We’ll come home from work and there will be flour and chocolate chips everywhere. There will be six cookies made and he will have enough cookie dough made for two dozen cookies.”
Not being a 4-H or FFA kid doesn’t stop Xavier from loving animals or the fair. He tries to go each summer and can be spotted helping with various animals.
That tradition began early. One year, Xavier was supposed to be home babysitting his sister. That wasn’t the case when DeJuan came home. It was during the county fair, and there was little doubt in DeJuan’s mind where his son was.
“So I hightail it over to the fairgrounds and I’m on fire,” DeJuan recalled, chuckling about it now. “I'm livid. I walk into the fairgrounds and I look, and there’s Xavier. Just standing shirtless with some kid’s goat.”
Xavier, his father said, was helping a kid prepare his goat for the bond sale.
“He’s humble,” Xavier’s high school math teacher Bret Foster, no relation, said. “You can see he’s been raised well by a good family. He’s respectful to me, he calls me sir. He can hold a conversation inside and outside of class.”
“He’s just like most teenagers in class,” Bret Foster continued. “He just happens to be well over a foot taller than me and great at basketball.”
Basketball and Oskaloosa’s William Penn University united Xavier’s parents. DeJuan and Kristi met there while both were playing the sport.
Kristi grew up in a basketball family.
“We grew up as a sports family,” Kristi said. “There has been a couple of rough games. There was a time when my brother-in-law took an elbow to my dad’s head, so it’s very competitive where I grew up.”
DeJuan had a different upbringing. He grew up in Rockford, Illinois — a place that he said he decided he didn’t want to live anymore after spending time in Oskaloosa. His family didn’t care much for him playing basketball, especially his grandfather.
“[DeJuan’s grandfather] loves watching it but basketball wasn’t important to him,” DeJuan said. “He wanted me to go to school and get my grades and that I could bounce a ball anytime. He didn't care about basketball; it was just an extracurricular activity to him.”
With that, the foundation was set for Xavier. He was practically born with a basketball in his hands, starting with dunking competitions early.
“We would just take time dunking on each other on the Fisher Price hoop and it’s just been basketball ever since,” DeJuan said.
Kristi bragged that she was able to block his shot a couple of times back then. That may be hard to replicate now with Xavier standing seven feet tall.
“We knew he would be tall but not this tall. I used to pull his legs when he was a baby and say, ‘stretch and grow.’ I’m pretty sure I got him another inch or two from pulling on his legs every night,” Kristi said.
His parents figured Xavier would be tall, they just didn’t think he would get that tall.
“His freshman year of high school he was 6-foot-9,” DeJuan recalled. “I thought maybe he’s done. One day we were at the gym shooting free throws and the kid is like 1-for-18 and I’m sweating like, ‘you’re not concentrating, what’s going on?’”
“I was like wait a minute, I wonder if he’s grown. We go over to the spot on the wall where we have him marked. And in a week, he grew about three inches.”
HIS BASKETBALL FUTURE
Xavier’s stock has risen over the past several years. Being a great basketball player and pursuing it after high school was something that he decided he wanted to do early. His parents were supportive from the start.
“The only time I bring the NBA up is when he’s being lazy,” DeJuan said. “It was probably fourth or fifth grade when he actually said that is what he wanted to do. I said that is a long shot. What are the odds of being one of the best 458 players in the world?
“Then I thought about it. What if he told me he wanted to be an astronaut? I would be like, ‘Yeah, you can do anything you want.’ So if you want to be in the NBA then OK, you just have to understand what it takes to get there. It’s going to take a lot of work and sacrifice of what normal teenagers do.”
That sacrifice has almost become routine at this point for Xavier. Since sixth grade, every Wednesday he heads to Des Moines to workout at Pure Prep, a college basketball preparation program that helps prepare high-level players for the next level.
Car rides have been long for those work outs, camps and AAU tournaments. Xavier recalls watching his favorite sports movie, “Coach Carter,” on every car ride to pass the time.
Despite playing the game and watching basketball movies, Xavier doesn’t like watching basketball. He will watch clips and highlights, he said, but he doesn’t like watching full games.
Now coming off perhaps his best accomplishment – being part of a team that won Oskaloosa’s first state basketball title -- Xavier will have more of a leadership role to play after the graduation of several key players.
“It was great,” Xavier said. “What we had overcome just to get there, with Cole (Henry) being out with a broken hand for a while, the championship game alone with how many people came out to support us was amazing.”
The victory was especially sweet because Oskaloosa suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the state title game in Xavier’s sophomore year, where he averaged 12.7 points and eight rebounds while shooting 58.2 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three. The team, and Xavier, were determined to get back to Wells Fargo Arena for redemption this year.
Xavier is well known throughout the state and will have a lot of eyes on him for his senior season.
“I don’t really feel the pressure (going into next season) so much just because coach (Parker) gave me the green light the other day and told me he needed 25 shots a game,” Xavier said. “I mean, I just got to keep the field goal percentage up. Makes me feel more confident.”
Parker knows he will have an uphill battle to get back to the championship game, but he will have the reassurance of having back his humble star.
“He is that kid that has never turned down an autograph or a picture,” Parker said. “He is usually the first one in the gym and the last one to leave.
“I think as a coach he is a once in a lifetime type player that does so much for our team. Most people see the dunks and the ability but what he does best is change shots and block shots and gives us that guy on defense that protects the rim.”
Xavier holds offers from the likes of Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Baylor, UCLA, USC, Creighton, Illinois, Missouri, Rutgers, Texas A&M and Providence.
“I said I’d like to have a top-five, but my mom wants me to wait until all the live periods are done this summer,” Xavier said. Live periods are when college basketball coaches are permitted to have athletes visit their school, or for coaches to watch them play in person.
Xavier has kept his cards close to him as he almost never discusses his recruitment with anyone. He will have options all over the country to choose from when he feels the time is right.
“My thing is that wherever he wants to go is what it comes down to,” Kristi said. “I am totally up for whatever he decides and he’s not talking to us about it and I wouldn’t want to have the pressure. Whatever he decides I’m going to pat him on the back.”
DeJuan has tried to take on most of the recruiting to let Xavier be Xavier and not have to worry too much about it.
“Be a kid,” DeJuan said. “You know basketball is kind of a double-edged sword. I want him to work really hard at it but at the same time, if all goes how he’s got it planned, then one day it will be a job. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be a job now. Be as normal as a 16-year-old that you can be for a seven-foot kid in Oskaloosa, Iowa.”