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Men’s basketball: Ryan Pedon living the dream as coach of hometown Buckeyes

Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon speaks to the media on June 15. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Standing on the sidelines of the basketball court in St. John Arena, a young ball boy stands just a few feet away from former Ohio State men’s basketball coach Gary Williams, and imagines himself in Williams’ shoes.

He doesn’t see himself on the court, leading the team in points rather he envisions his triumphs as coach of the Buckeyes.

The ball boy’s name is Ryan Pedon, and nearly 25 years later, his dream would finally come true. On June 15, Pedon was introduced as an assistant on the staff of recently hired coach Chris Holtmann.

“It’s something now that you look back on and you say, ‘Man, how ironic is that, that I was a ball boy, and now I work here as an assistant,'” Pedon said.

Though the road from ball boy to coach has been a long one, every stop along the way has played a crucial role in shaping Pedon into the coach he is today.

You won’t find anyone more excited to be here and be a part of this program than I am and that comes from the heart.” – Ryan Pedon

For the Bexley, Ohio, native, that road started as a young fan sitting in the stands of either St. John Arena or at Ohio Stadium, cheering on the hometown Buckeyes.

“My family was really into Ohio State football and basketball,” Pedon said. “As a matter of fact, we had season tickets for both football and basketball games for really my entire childhood. I went to just about every single home game for about 10 or 15 consecutive years.”

Pedon would not attend Ohio State, though. Instead, he played basketball under coach Steve Moore at the College of Wooster, a Division III school about 100 miles northeast of Columbus.

Moore — second all-time in Division III basketball with 800 wins over his 32-year career — said he recruited a player who not only brought talent to the court, but leadership and enthusiasm that he thought would make a valuable addition to his team.

During Pedon’s playing career from 1996-2000, the Fighting Scots enjoyed one of the most successful stretches in program history. Wooster went 96-19, reaching the NCAA Division III Tournament all four seasons.

And both on and off the court, Moore saw exactly the player he wanted when he recruited Pedon. Moore said having a guy like Pedon was “almost like having an extra coach.”

“He would pull guys aside and coach them, teach them, explain things to them,” Moore said. “Not just how to play the game on the court, but the way to act off the court.”

But it was Pedon’s senior season that stood out most to Moore.

The team the year before had been filled out mostly by upperclassmen, Ellenwood said, but their senior season was relatively inexperienced. Not wanting to have a letdown campaign following a successful year their junior season, the two co-captains and lone seniors — Pedon and Ellenwood — knew they would have to step up as leaders of a young team to match or exceed the success found the year before.

That season, Pedon helped lead the Fighting Scots to both an undefeated North Coast Athletic Conference regular-season record and an undefeated conference tournament run before losing in the Division III Sweet 16.

Though Pedon wasn’t a first-team all-conference player on the court, he said he did everything he could, even off the court, to help lead his team to success.

“It was unique because I think I developed some of my leadership abilities through adversity,” Pedon said. “I didn’t get a chance to play as much as I would have wanted to play over my four-year career.

“My response was, ‘Hey if I’m not playing as much as I hope to play, how can I best help this team win games?’”

For the leadership he had displayed that year, Pedon was recognized with the Bear Award, an honor given once a year to a player who exhibits leadership, courage and character to the team, Moore said.

So it came as no surprise to Moore or Ellenwood that a career in coaching followed the end of Pedon’s playing days at Wooster. Ellenwood said even while playing at Wooster, he was already starting to build a network and get his start in the coaching world.

“He was a sophomore, junior and senior, and he was working college camps and trying to get his foot in the door at a lot of Division I schools like Miami and Ohio State and places like that,” Ellenwood said. “So he was always thinking ahead two years on where he should be and things like that.”

That networking would pay off for Pedon as he was accepted into the master’s program at Miami (Ohio) in 2000 and spent the next two years working on his master’s degree in sport organization. And while he wasn’t studying for his classes, he was working with the basketball team as a graduate assistant, teaching classes, working on setting up summer camps, assisting in on-campus recruiting and contributing anywhere he believed he could help.

“The master’s degree was something that was very valuable because it enabled me to get a stipend while also pursuing my dream of collegiate coaching,” Pedon said.

After receiving his master’s in 2002, Pedon traveled across Ohio to take his first job in basketball, serving as the director of basketball operations at Kent State for three seasons before making a return to Oxford, Ohio, as an assistant coach with the Redhawks in 2005.

It was there that Pedon had his first heavy dosage of recruiting, serving as the primary recruiting coordinator.

“That was a great experience for me because it enabled me to get out and be on the road recruiting for the first time,” Pedon said.

After spending five seasons at Miami, Pedon was hired by the incoming coach at Toledo, Tod Kowalczyk.

Joining the Rockets, it was clear the program needed almost a total rebuild. It was coming off back-to-back seasons with single-season win totals, including a 4-28 record the year before.

Kowalczyk wanted to make drastic steps toward bringing Toledo back to a competitive state, and he believed the recruiting prowess Pedon had shown at Miami made him an invaluable addition to the team.

“He’s got a tremendous reputation as a fantastic recruiter in the state of Ohio,” Kowalczyk said. “(Previously) being the head coach of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I didn’t really recruit Ohio in the past, so I had to have someone who knew the landscape and had the connections and the positive relationships within the state.”

On the new staff, Kowalczyk said Pedon quickly became his top assistant coach. Though his role as recruiting coordinator proved to be one of the top responsibilities he had, Pedon was also in charge of scouting the opposition and developing guards whose success Kowalczyk largely attributed to the leadership of Pedon.

The new coaching staff did not get off to the start it had hoped for, as the team endured a 4-28 season in Kowalczyk’s and Pedon’s debut season. However, Toledo bounced back in the duo’s second full season, finishing second in the Mid-American Conference with a 19-17 record. The next season, their 15-13 record was tied for first in the conference.

However, to Kowalczyk, the key reason for his team’s newfound success was not Pedon’s ability to recruit (though that certainly helped), but rather the enthusiastic attitude he took with him to the sidelines every day.

“Ryan was a huge part of that turnaround,” Kowalczyk said. “He did a great job for us recruiting, an unbelievable job mentoring our players and more importantly, I think that his on and upbeat personality was contagious and infectious within our program.”

The successful turnaround of the Rockets’ program and the networking Pedon had done in his early years at Miami (Ohio) helped him cultivate a relationship with John Groce.

Groce had been in the coaching game since 1993, serving as an assistant coach at various schools (including Ohio State from 2004 to 2008) until 2008, when he accepted his first head coaching position at Ohio. While there, the now-Akron coach won a pair of MAC tournament championships (2010 and 2012).

“As I progressed throughout my coaching career, I became less focused on where I was coaching, and more focused on just doing the best possible job I could do in the program that I was in.” – Ryan Pedon

The relationship proved rewarding for both coaches, as Pedon was hired by Groce at Illinois, marking the first time he held a coaching position at a Power 5 school.

Beyond just the scale of the program, the job at Illinois had been drastically different from any of his previous roles. For starters, this was the furthest away from home he had worked in his professional career.

“Working at Illinois, that was my first time out of the state of Ohio, which was sort of shocking when you’ve coached for 13 years and you’ve never been out of one state,” Pedon said.

Beyond the change of scenery, Pedon also took on different responsibilities than those he had grown accustomed to in the past. Instead of primarily recruiting players, Pedon would help Groce look over film, plan camps over the summer, assist in player scouting and development, as well as providing Groce with an extra opinion on certain matters with the title assistant to the head coach.

“Once we had him there (at Illinois), obviously he and I worked closely together on a lot of different things. The title, the position kind of certainly indicates that — assistant to the head coach — and that’s really exactly what he was,” Groce said.

Leaving Illinois, Pedon traveled to Indianapolis to join Holtmann’s staff at Butler. At the time of the hiring, it was reported that a major factor in the hiring of Pedon was his ability to efficiently recruit Ohio, with Holtmann calling the state “an important border state for us in recruiting,” according to the Indianapolis Star.

And so recruiting was exactly the role Pedon picked up again.

Though he had been added to the staff with the intention of shoring up the program’s ability to recruit the Buckeye State, Pedon also assisted Butler in recruiting prospects from around the nation.

“We signed players that I recruited at Butler from Florida and Georgia and other areas as well,” Pedon said. “When I was at Butler, I would say Ohio was a focus for us because we consciously wanted to recruit the state of Ohio. But we also realized that in order to get the type of program that we wanted to have, a top-20 caliber program year in and year out, we felt like we definitely needed to recruit nationally.”

Now following Holtmann to Ohio State, Pedon hopes to take his recruiting ability that he has developed over the years and put it to good use working for the Buckeyes, making sure the program is able to recruit harder than anyone in the country.

He said while he hopes to bring some promising talent to the roster, any players recruited must exhibit the same level of enthusiasm to be Buckeyes that he has shown.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to try to offer every single four- or five-star in the state of Ohio in the next 10 years,” Pedon said. “Those kids have to fit who we are, what we want to be and I think that they also have to have a desire to want to play here, and want to be here at The Ohio State University.”

Pedon knows a little something about that desire to want to be at Ohio State. He mentioned in his introductory press conference that even though he was grateful for the opportunity to go deep into the interview talks with Butler to be the next head coach, he was excited to come home and coach at his dream school.

You won’t find anyone more excited to be here and be a part of this program than I am and that comes from the heart,” Pedon said.

Pedon later added that it takes a unique set of circumstances to be given a chance to coach at the school you grew up loving, and that as a result, it had not become a focus for him until he was offered the position.

“As I progressed throughout my coaching career, I became less focused on where I was coaching, and more focused on just doing the best possible job I could do in the program that I was in,” Pedon said. “Within our profession, it’s very difficult to control where you work.”

It has taken him several years to come full circle from a fan of the program and ballboy on the court watching Williams to now himself manning a coaching position for Ohio State.

“It’s been a fun journey man,” Pedon said.

Pedon was officially hired as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes a little over a month ago, but he remains a long ways away from settling in.

Not only is the new coach still living out of his suitcase in the Blackwell Hotel, but he said it is still difficult for him to process that he has landed a job working at his hometown university.

“Here I am, working in my hometown at my dream school when I was a kid, and it’s really — it’s still difficult to put my mind around it,” Pedon said.

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