VERSAILLES – Justin Ahrens saw something special developing at Ohio State, and he didn’t want to miss his chance to be a part of it.
The Versailles senior verbally committed on Sunday to play for The Ohio State University men’s basketball team, becoming the fourth player to commit to the Buckeyes in less than a week.
“It’s awesome,” Ahrens said. “It’s official. I couldn’t be happier. I feel like it’s a great decision.”
Ahrens, the son of Kevin and Susan Ahrens, originally had committed to Ohio State in August 2016 along with his AAU teammate Darius Bazley.
But in June, after Bazley decommitted and Ohio State lost some other recruiting battles, Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith fired head coach Thad Matta. That decision prompted Ahrens to reopen his commitment and consider other programs including the University of Dayton, the University of Michigan, Purdue University, Vanderbilt University and Xavier University.
“I kind of knew all along Ohio State was the place for me,” Ahrens said. “I just wanted to be sure.”
Ahrens narrowed his list to Michigan, Ohio State and Xavier and scheduled official visits with each of the three programs. He visited Michigan in early September then visited Ohio State this past weekend.
After visiting Ohio State, Ahrens decided he didn’t need to visit Xavier as he’d already made up his mind.
“They’ve done a great job of recruiting me,” Ahrens said of the Buckeyes. “They’ve been showing me that I’m a top priority.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, who was hired less than a week after Matta was fired, started recruiting Ahrens while he still was the head coach at Butler University. He continued his pursuit of the Versailles senior after coming to Ohio State and was the coach who most often attended of Ahrens’ AAU games in July.
Ahrens, who grew up an Ohio State fan, quickly built a strong relationship with Holtmann and his staff to go along with his already established love of the university and its fans.
Following a few relatively quiet months of recruiting, the pace became frantic for Ohio State last week as the Buckeyes picked up four commitments beginning with Jaedon LeDee from Houston, Texas, on Sept. 19. The following day Duane Washington from Chatsworth, California, committed to the Buckeyes then two days after that Luther Muhammad from Jersey City, New Jersey, committed.
“It just took one domino to fall for Ohio State,” Ahrens said. “It was just a matter of time.”
Seeing roster spots filling up quickly and knowing he wanted to play for Ohio State, Ahrens decided this past weekend to recommit to the Buckeyes.
“I’m really determined to help make Ohio State great again,” Ahrens said. “It’s going to be fun.”
With the four commitments, Ohio State is gaining national attention in the recruiting circles. The recruiting website 247sports.com ranks the Buckeyes’ class as the ninth best in the nation.
ESPN and 247sports.com both are high on Ahrens with ESPN rating the Versailles senior as a four-star prospect and 247sports.com rating him as a three-star prospect. ESPN has Ahrens listed as the 41st best small forward in the nation for the class of 2018.
However, the 6-foot 5-inch Ahrens doesn’t want to be classified simply as a small forward. He thinks he can play small forward, shooting guard or even point guard.
“Nobody is in in my position,” he said. “I’m a unique player. I don’t have a position.”
Ahrens has been a teammate of Muhammad in AAU and played against Washington several times. The one player he doesn’t have much experience with on the court is LeDee, though he’s forming a bond with him and the rest of his future teammates through a group chat.
The Versailles senior is excited about the class he’s with at Ohio State as he expects each player to complement each other well.
“Me and this 2018 class, we’re really excited about the future of Ohio State,” Ahrens said. “We’re going to be really good.”
Ohio State has missed the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons, but Ahrens sees that as a trend that will be reversed quickly.
“I think it’s on the right track,” Ahrens said of Ohio State. “That’s for sure.”
Before he gets to Ohio State, Ahrens still has one more season of high school basketball at Versailles, and his expectations remain high for the Tigers.
“The ultimate goal is a state championship,” he said. “I feel like that is very doable for us.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.