Every pregame ritual is the same for Joey Lane.
He leads Ohio State onto the court, bouncing a basketball violently against the court as soon as his feet touch the hardwood.
As the lineups are announced, he makes his way to the post area, greeting each starter with a handshake, custom-made for each one.
Lane then makes his way to the end of the bench, a familiar home to the senior guard. He knew, when choosing Ohio State, he would forgo an opportunity at significant playing time. But Lane was fine with that.
As tip-off nears, “Joker and the Thief” by Wolfmother begins to ring in every corner of the Schottenstein Center. Lane, physically pushing his fellow teammates, begins to jump up and down to the beat of the song, waving the towel that usually lives around his neck.
What Lane has coined as the “towel gang” is not unique to Ohio State. The senior guard said he stole is from another school, a school he would not disclose.
But what the “towel gang” represents to Lane is unique: It’s his role for Ohio State. A role that has remained for four seasons and survived a coaching change, a losing season, an NCAA Tournament run.
And it’s more than just to be a walk-on. It’s more than running the scout team or pumping up his teammates. It’s more than just a name for the student section to chant when the Buckeyes have an insurmountable lead.
Lane’s role is to be the best teammate he can be, a teammate he will be for the final time at home Sunday.
This was Lane’s job, the role he was given. A role that, when asked about fulfilling for the final time at Value City Arena, made him break down in tears and embrace senior guard C.J. Jackson and redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods.
It was a role he never thought he would have.
Clad in scarlet and gray from an early age, Lane grew up watching Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Aaron Craft, who he took as his favorite player, adopting the Buckeye guard’s No. 4 jersey as his own at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois.
Lane wanted to be like Craft, but was also trying to be realistic, viewing this hope as too far-fetched.
“The dream was to play here,” Lane said. “I never thought in a million years as a 5-foot-9 guy my junior year of high school that I would ever be able to do that.”
But he got his chance.
As a senior at Deerfield, Lane was named captain of the basketball team, allowing him the decision to choose where his team could train over the summer. So he chose an Ohio State basketball camp, giving him the chance to play on the court he watched as a fan throughout his childhood.
Lane and his team excelled, going 8-0 during the camp and putting the Ohio State coaching staff on notice.
At first, the conversation revolved around finding the right school for Joey, looking for a Division-II or Division-III school that gave him the opportunity to play regularly.
Lane flipped the script, shifting the conversation to finding out if there was any chance to live out his far-fetched dream. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta made that dream a reality, naming Lane as the first preferred walk-on in program history.
“I’m forever indebted to the guy because he gave me the chance,” Lane said.
After Matta’s departure from the program, that love could have been quickly taken away with a new coaching staff.
Lane was granted a scholarship in his first two seasons at Ohio State, what his father Scott referred to as a “one-year deal.” With a new coaching staff, a scholarship for a walk-on was not guaranteed.
Chris Holtmann had never met his inherited preferred walk-on. But the former Butler head coach knew what his impact had been.
In their first meeting, the newly named Ohio State head coach reassured Lane he had a major role to play moving forward, using a word Matta and his staff had never used when talking about him: leadership.
“They said, ‘You know what, the fact that you care so much about the university, that means something,’” Lane said. “That resonated with them.”
According to Lane’s mother Nancy, one of Joey’s former coaches told him, “Know your role and be the best at it you can be.”
From that moment forward, Lane embraced that role.
Morphing into whatever opponent the Buckeyes will next see, he began to lead the scout team — preparing the team for its upcoming opponent in practice and allowing him the opportunity to get out of his shell, shooting really deep shots or even posting up in the paint.
“Throughout my four years, I’ve been Denzel Valentine, I’ve been Carsen Edwards, I’ve been anyone that you can imagine,” Lane said.
Lane became engrossed in game plans and scouting reports, calling out his teammates when something did not go as planned on the court.
The walk-on did have an increased opportunity to use that knowledge on the court during games more than he had in Matta’s tenure. In his junior season, Lane played in seven games for 20 minutes, matching his career total, but made only 1-of-7 attempts from the field.
But this was not Lane’s priority. He had accepted the position he was in.
“Any playing time I got was gravy. I never in a million years thought I would play significant or meaningful minutes,” Lane said. “I never worked any less hard because I never thought I would be playing.”
Instead of making an impact on the court, Lane began his attempt to extend his legacy passed his four seasons of eligibility.
Prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, then-redshirt senior guard Andrew Dakich was looking for a school with which to end his collegiate career.
As soon as he stepped foot onto Ohio State’s campus, he was introduced to Lane, who showed him around campus, grabbing a meal with him and incoming freshman forward Kyle Young.
“I didn’t really know him at all before I got here, and he was really comfortable,” Dakich said. “He’s easy to talk to. That first moment, we kind of started to become teammates.”
With his love for the university and with what Dakich calls an enthusiasm and energy unique to the walk-on guard, Lane took an important part in helping build the future for Ohio State, being called to host about every recruit that visited.
When he recruits, Lane said he does not try and push Ohio State on the high school players. Instead, he said he talks about how special of a place he thinks Ohio State is.
“I love Ohio State. I would sell my soul for Ohio State, and that’s what I try and do to these kids,” Lane said.
Holtmann said Lane has been a tremendous recruiter for the Buckeyes, calling him a great advocate for the university, having the ability to successfully convey the message of the program to recruits and their families.
But talking to recruits on visits, Lane wants to make one thing perfectly clear.
“Their life will be a lot better than mine,” he said.
This is the aspect that makes coaches, teammates and those around Lane believe why he has found success at Ohio State: his relatability.
“He’s like the Ohio State University poster child,” Nancy Lane said. “It’s his dream school and he’s living out his dream.”
Dakich, now a graduate assistant coach for Ohio State, calls Lane the connector with the student section, building the relationship between the men’s basketball team and the fanbase, becoming the face of a team he does not play much for.
But that does not mean this fanbase does not want him on the court.
If Ohio State holds a seemingly insurmountable lead at the end of the game, Dakich, Holtmann and the rest of the coaching staff know what is coming.
“We want Joey. We want Joey.”
It was a chant Lane thought about on the bench prior to the Northwestern game on Feb. 20. When it began to happen, as thousand of fans began to chant his name with the Buckeyes en route to a 63-49 victory, Lane thought it could be one of the last times he heard it.
“It’s a hard feeling to put into words because it’s dumb, but it’s awesome at the same time,” Lane said. “First of all, it means we are winning, which is very important. But it also means they care about me, they like me, they see what I am doing and they appreciate it.”
For Lane, the chants have worked more than they ever have before. In his final season, coming into the final regular season game of the season, the senior guard has played in 13 games for 35 minutes, hitting 4-of-6 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3.
But to his parents, those chants are validation. It makes them feel like their son, who could have had way more playing time at a smaller school, made the right decision.
“We raised our kids to be good people,” Nancy Lane said. “To do the right thing, to be a good friend, to be a good teammate and to put others first. When you see other people embrace that, it’s powerful.”
For Dakich, Lane signifies everything a program wants in a walk-on.
For Holtmann, Lane has earned the right to be praised, to have his name chanted to come into the game.
“He’s really easy to care about, easy to like, easy to want to see him be successful,” Holtmann said. “He’s easy to root for.”
But for Lane, it’s just another aspect of his role. It’s being the same guy he was in high school no matter the playing time he receives. To be the positive reinforcement, the teammate, the friend on the bench. To have the custom handshake with each player, to bounce up and down to “Joker and the Thief” courtside as the ball is tipped.
It’s a role that he will have at the Schottenstein Center one final time Sunday, the last time he will lead Ohio State onto the court, bouncing the basketball violently against the court as soon as his feet touch the hardwood.
It’s something Lane has not thought about much. But it’s something he said will be surreal.
“I’ll definitely have to soak it all in and look at my family, that’s for sure,” Lane said. “It will be pretty darn cool because it’s somewhere I never expected to be.”