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Despite departures, bright outlook for Ohio State men’s basketball in 2014-15

Junior guard Shannon Scott (3) sets himself on defense during a game against Dayton March 20 at First Niagara Center. OSU lost, 60-59. Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

Junior guard Shannon Scott (3) sets himself on defense during a game against Dayton March 20 at First Niagara Center. OSU lost, 60-59.
Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

The ball bounced off the front of the rim and fell to the floor at the First Niagara Center. Ohio State’s season was over.

Dayton had a 60-59 advantage when the buzzer echoed throughout the rafters and signaled the end of the careers of two of the most accomplished players OSU has ever seen — senior guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft.

But as their season ended Thursday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, next season’s outlook is somewhat of a mixed bag with the unexpected departure of a bench player and an incoming Top 5 recruiting class.

As it currently stands, OSU is set to have just 11 players on scholarship when practice for the 2014-15 season opens this fall. Losing Craft and Smith Jr. will likely hurt from a leadership standpoint, but coach Thad Matta has five returning players who are on scholarship and will be seniors, provided forward LaQuinton Ross doesn’t bounce to the NBA.

“Both guys, you look at how many games they’ve won here, championships they’ve been a part of, it’s really an amazing four years,” Matta said of Craft and Smith Jr. March 7. “With that said, both guys have had a major impact on this program in terms of making it better. And that’s what we ask guys to do.”

Craft said in the locker room after his final game as a Buckeye that junior guard Shannon Scott needs to step up as a leader next season, but filling that void can’t just fall on him.

“Obviously he has some big games under his belt and he’s experienced this, but it’s not just going to fall on one guy’s shoulders. Guy like (junior forward) Sam (Thompson) can help, too,” Craft said.

The number of players on scholarships is one less than it would have been even with the departure of Craft and Smith Jr., because sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle told Matta and his staff Saturday that he intends to head back home to Italy and pursue a professional career in Europe. Della Valle posted a message to his personal Twitter account, @Ame_DV_33, Saturday afternoon announcing his farewell.

“I wouldn’t trade this experience with anything else, B1G Champions, the run to the Elite 8, the 12-0 year, man was that special,” the message read. “It is now time for me to begin new experiences as I decided to head back to Europe to continue to play PRO basketball.”

So with three men gone and the potential to lose another in Ross — who said his decision would come “in the next couple of weeks” — Matta and company have some rebuilding to do.

Matta signed yet another top 5 recruiting class for next season, bringing in guard D’Angelo Russell, forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate and center David Bell. It’s a class Matta said he’s excited to coach.

“The biggest thing with this particular class is we got what we wanted,” Matta said Nov. 14.

Russell, 21st in the ESPN top 150 rankings, is likely to figure largely in the rotation next year to help replace Craft and Smith Jr.’s production. Tate is recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is out for the rest of his senior season so it remains to be seen when he will be 100 percent, and Bates-Diop and Bell likely have their work cut out for them to get minutes unless Ross leaves.

Another player who will figure into the equation is current freshman guard Kam Williams, who sat out all year after battling through mono and missing the bulk of training camp.

All season long, something appeared off with the team, whether it be a lack of instinct, absence of ability to consistently put points on the board or an undependable post presence.

“(Fans) deserve an answer. They deserved an answer all year. They’ve seen us play well, and they’ve seen us play like this,” Craft said after the loss to the Flyers Thursday. “Nothing is guaranteed and that’s one of the tougher things to get across from people. My time’s done now, so it’s on these guys to learn from what this season’s been. How hard it’s been. How difficult we’ve made it on ourselves at times. That’s what they gotta do.”

Returning to try and fill in the blanks are juniors in Thompson, Scott and center Amir Williams, who all averaged at least 7.5 points per game in OSU’s 25-win campaign. Junior center Trey McDonald is also set to return, but he only averaged 2.0 points per game and 1.7 rebounds off the bench this season.

Scoring points will be a premium for the Buckeyes next year, as aside from Ross, no one really stepped up to be that second scorer the team so desperately needed.

“It’s one of those things where everybody wants to be that guy. But the guys got to be willing to do the things in terms of work ethic and in terms of the system and knowing that,” Matta said. “You see guys have great off-seasons, and hopefully we have that.”


  1. 2014-2015 will be bright only if Matta is replaced!

  2. Certainly hope it would look brighter, it can’t get any dimmer. I’d certainly like to know the teams shooting percentage eliminating points scored on layups and put backs. In one game this year, they scored 23 FGs in the paint. From the outside they were 1-34, a tainted 41% game average. The Bucks had no post play and no threat from the outside. It was a lot easier to penetrate for Craft when Sully was in the middle and you had Diebler and Thomas from the outside.

  3. Replace Matta? Some of our fans are so spoiled, they have just lost it.

    Just like 2009 after the 1st round loss to Siena – then Matta followed up with 2 Sweet 16’s, one Final Four and one Elite Eight.

  4. I agree. Matta has done a good job the past 10 years in Columbus. However, I do believe the coaching staff can do a better job with our players on improving their ability to score, rebounding and making foul shots. Thank God we had a solid defense this year! I am looking forward to next season. Go Bucks!!!!!

  5. Do people seriously not remember what OSU basketball was before Matta got here? Unbelievable how spoiled our fanbase has become. It really is a shame he “only” has another top 5 recruiting class in the nation coming in next year, recruited a couple McDonald’s All-American’s who haven’t won 1st team all-world every season they’ve been here, and only won 25 games (again) playing in arguably the best conference in America. What I would do for the good ole days of Jim O’Brien, Boban Savovic, and bribing players to come here…

  6. First guy was not a osu fan go bucks

  7. Why any top player would commit to OSU is beyond me. You get to play for a great coach at a great university but dealing with an uneducated, ungrateful fan base wouldn’t be worth it. There are comparable schools to go to where you don’t have to deal with the hacks and asshats that think they are owed something and are so loud that they drown out any positive fans from getting through.

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