The power of youth can be a blessing and a curse. No one knows that better than the Ohio State women’s basketball team.
Through 19 games, not one senior has seen time on the court. In fact, there are only two upperclassmen on the entire roster.
With that youth comes opportunities that don’t arise for many other college freshmen or sophomores across the country. Underclassmen are scoring 63.3 points per game for the Buckeyes –– good for more than 94 percent of the team’s total output.
“It’s really nice to see,” sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz said. “Every game, someone else steps up. If somebody can’t score, the other freshmen step up. I think that’s how great teams should be. We grow together.”
Juhasz leads the team in scoring and rebounding and is the only player on the team who has started every game. Her consistency is what Ohio State looks for from its young roster.
“We have a chance to be really, really special. I think each of them have to commit individually while they’re continuing to get better,” Ohio State assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Carrie Banks said. “I think that as a group collectively, it’s just being consistent. That’s something when you talk about the lineup or a young team, you see a fluctuation in consistency.”
The inconsistency of Ohio State’s young team comes with its opportunities. A handful of freshmen have had the chance to step up and score when needed, and the team has eight players averaging 6.6 points or more per contest. All of its top eight scorers are underclassmen.
“I think we’re all kind of still learning the whole process, but we’re getting used to it, and I think we’re starting to play better together,” freshman guard Jacey Sheldon said. “It definitely helps having a full team that can contribute.”
Banks attributes the balanced mentality to a team in constant fluctuation — a team trying to figure out the best version of itself.
“We want the best combination of kids out there. Dorka has been somebody who has been really, really consistent for us for the most part,” Banks said. “So I think when you have a large group, a very talented group, a hardworking group and a young group, I think very early on we’re just trying a bunch of different combinations to figure out what was our best lineup.”
Not only are the sophomores on the team the grizzled veterans of the group, but they’ve also had to step into leadership roles for the freshmen who are still learning the college game.
“Now I have to be more vocal; I have to talk to them on and off the court,” Juhasz said. “I’m the person now that they can come to and ask questions if they need something. It’s a big change, but we adjusted pretty quickly.”
The fountain of leadership, however, is junior transfer guard Braxtin Miller, the team’s only upperclassman who receives regular playing time.
Miller distributes consistently to the underclassmen and is No. 2 on the team in assists.
“[Miller] has been awesome,” Sheldon said. “As far as a leader for us freshmen and sophomores, she’s been awesome on and off the floor. We all know we can go to her, and on the floor, she’s really there to keep us going all the time.”
The biggest factor in the development of a young team is experience. The only way to gain game experience is by playing in real games –– something these freshmen and sophomores won’t have to worry about.
Six of the nine underclassmen have played at least 350 minutes this season, and aside from Juhasz, Miller and freshman guard Kierstan Bell, shot attempts are very well spread out among the team.
“Most important is getting them to adjust to the speed of the game, the decision-making that goes into playing at the college level and understanding the style of play,” Banks said. “That takes time. It takes extra work, and I think that what you’ll see is that group is starting to play better.”
For Banks, putting together a 2019 recruiting class talented enough to be ranked No. 4 in the country by ESPN was a matter of keeping the best Ohioans in the state. Sheldon, Bell and freshman guard Madison Greene all hail from the Buckeye State.
“Just making sure that we get kids that know the value, the importance, the tradition that goes along with Ohio State,” Banks said. “Those were kids that were really excited about playing in front of their friends and family.”
Sheldon’s familiarity with former high school players has enhanced her transition to the college game.
“[Having other Ohioans] was actually really helpful,” Sheldon said. “And a lot of them were young too, like Madison and Kierstan, so we kind of all learned the whole process together, which was fun.”
With two classes like the ones Ohio State and Banks were able to put together in consecutive years, the ceiling for the next two seasons is limitless.
Sheldon knows the importance of reaching that ceiling as soon as possible.
“I think we can end up being really good, and I think we want to get to that point as soon as we can,” Sheldon said. “We don’t want to miss our opportunity.”