Under normal circumstances, a team faced with the task of replacing its leader in nearly every statistical category, including points, rebounds and assists, would be far from optimistic. However, despite Evan Turner’s departure to the NBA, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the Ohio State men’s basketball team, now less than two months away from the start of the season.
Although the Buckeyes return four starters from a year ago, most of the attention will be placed on the team’s newcomers. The six freshmen joining the team this year, most notably center Jared Sullinger, make up what many consider to be the nation’s best recruiting class.
After a summer’s worth of practices and workouts, and now in the midst of the team’s annual 10-week conditioning program, senior Jon Diebler said he can see why this group has received so much hype.
“You could really go down the list, and we have a lot of guys that can really come in and help,” Diebler said. “Jared is going to come in and he’s really going to contribute, but I also think we have a lot of guards that can come in and contribute.”
Senior David Lighty has been equally impressed.
“Collectively, I think all of them have surprised me,” Lighty said. “They come in and contribute in any type of way in anything we ask them to do, and they all ask us questions on how they can get better. They are all willing to work and get better each day.”
Lighty on the mend
After re-fracturing a bone in his foot this offseason, the same bone he broke two seasons ago, forcing him to redshirt, Lighty said he is nearly returned to full health.
Now in his fifth year in the program, Lighty said he is “cleared for everything” from a medical standpoint but is still gradually making his way back to 100 percent. In what might be an hourlong or 40-minute workout for the rest of the team, Lighty said he spends about 25 or 30 minutes on the floor.
Assistant coach Jeff Boals said there is no doubt Lighty will be fully healed before the team’s first game in November, and he expects the injury to be a non-issue once play begins.
“Dave is back working out and he looks really good,” Boals said. “Dave’s an athlete and it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
When Lighty arrived on campus as a freshman in 2006, he was a member of the highly touted ‘Thad 5,’ a recruiting class that included Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Othello Hunter. Though the team was known for its freshmen, Lighty and the others had plenty of help for a core group of upperclassmen headlined by NCAA tournament hero Ron Lewis.
Now, with the Buckeyes adding their most heralded freshman class since Lighty’s five years ago, he now has a different perspective.
“The situation that I had my freshman year and the team that we already had coming back is kind of the same way as it is now,” Lighty said. “That gives me a lot of insight with things that I might have struggled with my freshman year or a question that I might have had my freshman year.”
Diebler said he is taking on similar responsibilities and that he, Lighty and fellow returning starters Dallas Lauderdale and William Buford will have to step up as leaders of the team.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve tried to implement to the freshmen, to tell them as much as we can what it’s going to be like and what’s coming,” Diebler said. “I remember when I was a freshman and we have a 10-week conditioning program, and you get into week three, week four, week five and you start getting tired.”
“That’s when Dallas (Lauderdale), Dave (Lighty), Will (Buford) and I need to start leading by example because the freshmen, they’ve never been through anything like this before.”
Point guard by committee?
Though Turner wasn’t a typical point guard, he handled the vast majority of the ball handling a year ago. But with Turner now in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, the Buckeyes will have to find a replacement, or perhaps more accurately, several replacements.
“Certain situations or certain times in a game, depending on who we play and things like that, it’ll probably be all of us, depending on what coach [Thad] Matta calls or wants us to play,” Lighty said. “Even last year there were plays where I was at the point guard and Jon (Diebler) was at the point guard, so I think it’s going to be the same way.”
The player making the biggest push for playing time is freshman Aaron Craft. The only true point guard on the roster, Craft has turned heads with his offseason workouts, and Boals said he has a real chance earning a lot of playing time.
“He’ll have an opportunity,” Boals said. “He has come in, and our strength coach said he is probably the most freshman-ready kid he’s ever been around. He has had a phenomenal summer.”
With so many people competing for playing time, it seems likely that the Buckeyes could receive much more support from their bench than a season ago. With Matta often playing only six players per game, the team’s short bench was often a lightning rod for criticism.
Diebler, who led the team in minutes played last year, said he expects more people to contribute this year.
“With the new guys coming in, we can go with a big lineup or we can go with a small lineup, and even some of our smaller lineups have guys that are 6-foot-6-inch or 6-foot-7-inch playing the wing,” Diebler said. “Right now, getting our defense down is going to be the most important thing because we have a lot of people who can score.
“I know coach likes to push the ball a lot, and with the guys we have that are so skilled, we can play seven or eight guys.”