Ohio State Basketball: Comparing Each Buckeye Starter to a Former Buckeye
There are few things that are more fluid in the sporting world than the rosters of college basketball programs.
With players entering the NBA Draft, graduating and even transferring, rarely is one school’s roster the same two years in a row.
Despite these short collegiate careers, fans can keep their memories of former players alive by comparing and contrasting those on current rosters with players of old.
Ohio State fans have formed plenty of these memories during Thad Matta’s coaching career. In the past six seasons, the Buckeyes have made two Final Fours, won Big Ten regular season championships and taken home conference tournament crowns.
The players in next season’s starting lineup share many characteristics with players on Matta’s older teams that had a hand in creating these memories. With that in mind, here is a comparison between each Buckeye starter and a former Buckeye.
Stats courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com.
Aaron Craft and David Lighty
Yes, Aaron Craft and David Lighty play/played different positions and roles for Ohio State. In fact, they even spent one season together as teammates.
However, their games are incredibly similar—defense comes first. Each has been named to a Big Ten All-Defensive Team, and Craft was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Showing this defensive prowess, Lighty averaged more than a steal per game during his time in Columbus, while Craft is averaging an astounding 2.3 per contest so far.
However, what makes both of these players so endearing to Buckeye Nation and valuable to Matta is not just their defensive statistics. Craft is the current emotional and on-court leader for the current Ohio State team, a role that Lighty played so effectively during his career.
In the one season that Craft and Lighty were teammates, it was almost as if it was a race to see who could dive for a loose ball quicker.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Je’Kel Foster
If Lenzelle Smith Jr. becomes the player that Je’Kel Foster was in Foster’s final season in Columbus, Thad Matta would be ecstatic.
Foster was never the headlining star, much like Smith has been overshadowed by other marquee names during his time at Ohio State. However, Foster was an invaluable asset to his Big Ten champion team thanks in large part to his timely three-point shooting and Aaron Craft-like 2.3 steals per game.
Smith showed flashes of these types of timely contributions with solid defense and clutch three-pointers in last season’s NCAA Tournament. If Smith can put together an entire year's worth of performances that match his postseason play, his junior season should be crucial to the Buckeyes’ success.
While he isn’t quite the player that Foster was (yet), Smith should model his game after the unheralded but essential former Ohio State guard.
LaQuinton Ross and Evan Turner
If Lenzelle Smith isn’t quite the player Foster was yet, then LaQuinton Ross has a mountain to climb before reaching Evan Turner’s status in Columbus.
Turner was voted the National Player of the Year as a Buckeye, was drafted as the number two overall pick in the NBA Draft, and was arguably the best collegiate player that Matta has ever coached.
Ross’ career on the other hand has been much more hype than substance. The highly-touted recruit was suspended for the season’s first month last year and saw limited minutes upon his return.
However, he is projected to be a key contributor in 2012-13 and should have an opportunity to develop into the playmaker Buckeye fans expected a year ago.
The 6’8” Ross is a lengthy forward who has a soft shooting touch and the ability to slash the lane and create contact and scoring chances. These are all traits that Turner, who stood at 6’7”, exploited on his way to a spectacular college career.
He may never quite reach Turner-like numbers, but Ross has the necessary tools to put together a solid career of his own.
Deshaun Thomas and Dennis Hopson
There are exceptions to every rule, so I am implementing one here—Thad Matta didn’t have to coach everyone on this list. Thus, Dennis Hopson is eligible.
Hopson was simply a scoring machine for Ohio State. In fact, as the program’s all-time points leader, Hopson can safely claim that there has never been a better scorer in Buckeye history.
Deshaun Thomas’ role is just that for Matta’s squad—score early and score often. This was never more apparent than during last season’s NCAA Tournament, where Thomas impressed college fans and professional scouts alike with a handful of scoring outbursts.
However, there are two things that are noticeably missing from Deshaun’s game: consistent defense and rebounding. Fear not, Buckeye fans, because if there was ever a blueprint career for Thomas to follow it was Hopson’s.
Hopson never averaged more than six rebounds per game during his first three years in Columbus, but something clicked during his senior campaign. The Buckeyes leading scorer saw his rebounding average shoot up to 8.2 per contest, while also swiping more than two steals a game.
All of a sudden, the greatest scorer in Ohio State history was a force in other areas of the game as well. If Thomas can learn the defensive and rebounding discipline necessary to prompt similar statistical jumps, he can truly turn himself into a collegiate superstar.
Amir Williams and Dallas Lauderdale
Amir Williams came to Ohio State with much more potential than Lauderdale did. And if Williams, a former McDonald’s All-American, parlays that hype into a career that bests Lauderdale’s, I don’t think many Buckeye fans will complain.
However, for the upcoming season, Williams should attempt to model his game after Lauderdale.
While never much of a threat offensively, Ohio State knew what it was going to get from Dallas almost every night. He played great defense, grabbed a majority of the rebounds that bounced his way, and often punctuated the night with a couple of highlight blocks or dunks.
That should be Williams’ formula for success as he attempts to replace the two-time All-American Jared Sullinger in 2012-13.
If Williams can provide lock down defense, a much-needed rebounding force, and block a few shots along the way, Buckeye fans could probably live with inconsistent offense from the young center.
By the time Williams’ career comes to a close, Matta will likely be asking for more scoring, but let’s worry about that when the time comes.