COLUMBUS – When Ohio State held its men’s basketball media day last Wednesday, the coach wasn’t there.
Not the new one. Not the old one.
New OSU coach Chris Holtmann was out of town on a recruiting trip. Old coach Thad Matta was out of a job after being removed from his position in June. Recruiting was the reason there, too.
Ohio State football has become a destination program for 4-star and 5-star player since Urban Meyer was hired after the 2011 season. Ohio State men’s basketball tried to do the same thing and it didn’t work.
After a national runner-up finish in 2007 and losing in the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2011 when more was expected, Matta appeared to change his recruiting philosophy and went after many of the same players the elite teams were pursuing.
Unfortunately, Ohio State mostly swung and missed when it went after the best of the best. It whiffed on some of the players it brought in, like McDonald’s All-Americans Amir Williams and Shannon Scott in 2011, and the entire 2015 recruiting class.
And while no one ever keeps all of the in-state talent home, Luke Kennard, Trey Burke, Caris LeVert, Aaron White, Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards have all had better careers than most of the recruits Ohio State targeted ahead of them. And 2016 Ohio Mr. Basketball Xavier Simpson could join that list in the next three years at Michigan.
Holtmann recently got verbal commitments from four high school seniors in six days, three of them from out of state and Versailles’ Justin Ahrens, who had previously committed to OSU but reopened his recruiting when Matta was fired.
Current freshman Kaleb Wesson, a 4-star, 6-9, 270-pound center from Westerville South, covers all the bases by being highly rated and by being from Ohio State’s back yard.
But it’s still a long climb for the Buckeyes. One preseason magazine picked them thirteenth in the Big Ten.
While that might be a little low, it’s not outrageous after finishing tenth in the conference last year and seventh and sixth the two seasons before that.
So, what are the reasons the current players tell recruits why they should come to Ohio State?
“I tell them as many good things as I can,” sophomore center Micah Potter said.
The list of good things for Ohio State this year starts with having senior wing Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 points a game) back and having 6-7 junior Keita Bates-Diop (9.7 points a game) healthy after he missed most of last season with a stress fracture in his leg.
Beyond that, it’s mostly speculation, guesses and hope.
Ohio State’s media day coincided with the revelation last week that the FBI has uncovered serious cheating in college basketball recruiting.
It brought to mind one of the things Matta said at his farewell press conference. “We always did it the right way,” he said.
But the right way is appreciated more when you win.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.