Freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell drives the lane against Iowa on Feb. 21 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 100-82. Credit: Ryan Cooper / Lantern photographer

Freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell drives the lane against Iowa on Feb. 21 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 100-82.
Credit: Ryan Cooper / Lantern photographer

The Ohio State women’s basketball team has found that the best way to improve in its craft might not be to simply practice against itself.

The Buckeyes have composed their own practice team of male players to scrimmage against on a daily basis because coach Kevin McGuff said he believes it is the best way for his players to get better.

“I have always done it,” McGuff said. “The boys can push and challenge our kids and make it a tough environment, I like that.”

The male opponents are typically OSU students brought in by the coaches. Those coaches then leave it up to these men to find more players on campus whom they believe could contribute in practice as well.

“Usually we get some of the guys and tell them to get people that would fit what we are trying to do,” McGuff said. “They do a good job of that and we have really great guys, they do whatever we ask.”

From there, the men play the offensive and defensive schemes of the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponents and are asked to go hard all the time, McGuff said.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s good competition,” Brandon West, a second-time practice player, said. “We are all friends in the end.”

West, who played basketball at Stebbins High School in Dayton and turned down the sport in college in favor of the full academic scholarship OSU gave him, said it is necessary for the men to have strong basketball backgrounds to keep up with the team.

“You don’t want to come in and do bad because that will hinder the girls more than help them,” he said.

This system has set up a benefiting relationship for both parties, as West said he has learned as much from practicing with the women as he has helped them.

“I help them, but they help me more than they know,” he said. “It helps me not only as a player but as a person. We both want to succeed.”

The competition this type of practice provides makes the team better, West said, and junior guard Ameryst Alston added that she views it as second to none.

“Guys are much faster and they jump higher,” Alston said. “We have really good practice players so I look at it as, if we can guard our practice guys, then we can guard anybody.”

Alston, who grew up playing with boys, said she thinks this method provides an edge and believes the men tend to be shocked at how good the women are.

West said he could not agree more.

“I have the utmost respect for them,” he said. “I have a lot more respect for women in sports. I have always focused on the men’s side and thought girls’ sports were taken for granted but they work as hard, if not harder than any guy’s team I have ever watched.”

Now, West attends all the Buckeyes’ home games and said the men are extremely supportive of the team and vice-versa.

“We have gone to every single home game and we hang out with the girls outside of practice on a regular basis,” he said.

Just two games out from completing the regular season, the Buckeyes are ready to apply their practice work to their last games in hopes of obtaining a high seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes currently sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference, and the top four seeds get an automatic spot in the third round of the tournament.

“We are trying to get that position of having a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament,” Alston said. “So these next few games are crucial.”

First up is Penn State, a team OSU already beat once this season. The Buckeyes look to repeat that effort in State College, Pa., a place McGuff said he feels is always difficult to be successful in.

“It is a really hard place to go and win,” he said. “It will be a really challenging situation all the way around for us.”

Tip off is set for Thursday at 7 p.m.