Ohio State Basketball: Why the Buckeyes Are Struggling to Attract Top Talent
Tony Parker was supposed to be a lock.
The 5-star recruit from Georgia was heavily recruited by Thad Matta for quite some time. He was going to be Jared Sullinger’s replacement in the lane and help the Buckeyes make a smooth transition for another run at the Final Four.
It was the perfect fit.
However, when the season rolls around in November, the big man will be wearing the baby blue and gold of UCLA instead.
In more frustrating news for Ohio State fans, next year’s top-rated prospect and Sports Illustrated cover athlete Jabari Parker recently trimmed his list of schools down to 10. The Buckeyes, once thought to be a potential destination, were nowhere to be found.
So why is Ohio State struggling to attract some of the top high-school talent in the country?
At least some of it can be explained by the uncertainty surrounding the scholarship situation this past season—were Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas coming back? How was Matta supposed to know about future transfers?
While Matta is known as a formidable recruiter (after all, he has brought some impressive classes to Ohio State before), there are some built-in disadvantages that he must overcome.
With that in mind, here are five reasons why Ohio State is recently having trouble attracting the nation’s top high-school talent.
Lack of NBA Success
While John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas are NBA legends that Buckeyes everywhere can take pride in, young high school kids likely aren’t as impressed.
When we are talking about 17 and 18-year-old kids, it is probably the players from their lifetimes who will have a more lasting impact. Who exactly would that be for Ohio State? Mike Conley Jr. and Evan Turner may reach an elite level one day, but they don’t exactly scream Michael Jordan and LeBron James when it comes to recruits.
When recruits are visiting big-time programs, it is hard to deny the fact that North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and even Duke are currently churning out top NBA players at a much higher rate than Ohio State.
If Greg Oden could have stayed healthy, or if the one-and-done rule had been in play when LeBron was in high school, we may be having a different conversation.
Fair or not, Ohio State will probably always be considered a football school. We are talking about a program that draws nearly 100,000 fans for its spring football game, so perhaps it isn’t fair to compare it to the basketball team.
Still, you can bet recruits do some comparing. When top players visit schools like Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina, it is clear to them that they have the potential to be big men on campus.
And, to be fair, what 17-year-old kid wouldn’t want that?
To his credit, Thad Matta has done wonders for improving the importance of basketball among Buckeye Nation. He persuaded the powers to be to create a better home court by moving the student section, he continues to schedule a handful of marquee nonconference games and, most importantly, he has earned two trips to the Final Four.
Despite these efforts, football is king in Columbus, and big-name recruits know it.
Few places, if any, do basketball better than the Midwest. If you don’t believe me, just watch the movie Hoosiers.
Basketball at the college level in the Midwest is no different. Powerhouse teams such as Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan State and Louisville litter the nation’s heartland. Even the "second-tier" teams (think Butler or Xavier) are squads that can compete with just about anybody.
Heck, the state of Ohio alone made up 25 percent of the Sweet Sixteen last season.
This makes it all the more difficult for Matta to recruit locally. High school players in the Midwest who want to stay close to home have a variety of places to choose from.
Want to play for a national title winner? Check. Want to play for a historically elite program? Check. Want to play for a nationally renowned coach who will improve your chances at the NBA? Check.
Almost anything on a high school player’s wish list can be fulfilled in the Midwest somewhere, making it more difficult for Matta to differentiate his program from everyone else.
Value City Arena/Schottenstein Center
As mentioned before, Matta has taken great strides to transform the underwhelming atmosphere that traditionally accompanies games in the Schottenstein Center.
His embracing the student section, affectionately known as the Nuthouse, has created a hostile environment for prime-time opponents who come to Columbus. Few arenas in the entire country could match the noise level during the Duke game last year.
However, this is hardly the case when a less prominent opponent comes to town.
Unlike in football, Ohio State’s home arena rarely sells out for early season non-conference games. Additionally, it fails to match the intensity of other stadiums on a nightly basis and is probably too big for its own good.
The sound has the tendency to disperse across the large structure instead of raining down on the opposition (a la Cameron Indoor Stadium).
When prominent recruits are visiting basketball meccas in Indiana and Kentucky, the Schottenstein Center doesn't really stand a chance.
Lack of a Top-Tier Practice Facility
Buckeye fans have been hearing about the brand new, top-notch practice facility for years now.
Six years to be exact.
In 2006, Ohio State announced plans to begin construction on a practice complex with ideas of being the Joneses that everyone else tries to match.
Problem was, the donations didn’t come flying in as originally expected.
Perhaps the football culture played a role in the reluctance to fund a $22 million basketball facility. After all, it’s hard to miss the world-class indoor and outdoor football complex right next door to the Schottenstein Center.
However, the collapse of the economy probably had more to do with it, as athletic donations began to slow.
Nevertheless, plenty of schools have these basketball palaces, including conference rivals Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan. Knowing this, Ohio State is reportedly finally moving on with the construction of a top-notch facility.
Forget being the Joneses. At this point, if the Buckeyes hope to compete for the nation’s top recruits, they had better make sure they are just keeping up with them.