To say the past few months on the recruiting trail have not exactly gone as planned for Thad Matta would be quite the understatement.
The Ohio State basketball coach has become somewhat accustomed to reeling in big name players during his eight-year tenure in Columbus. One glance at his list of recruits would reveal prospects such as Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.
Matta has his work cut out for him if he hopes to match his 2013 class with previous efforts.
The bad news started rolling in during the spring when Matta couldn’t convince Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood to join childhood friend LaQuinton Ross at Ohio State. Instead, Hood was lured in by the mystique of Coach K and the Dukies.
But that wasn’t as difficult to swallow as the loss of Top 10 prospect and primary Buckeye target Noah Vonleh.
Vonleh committed to Indiana over the weekend even though he was scheduled to visit Ohio State later this month. What’s more, Nigel Hayes of Toledo chose Wisconsin over his home state program this weekend.
Hayes was younger brother of former Ohio State football player Kenny Hayes.
Vonleh was the more crippling loss, especially since that scheduled visit would have overlapped with the Ohio State and Michigan football game, something that probably would have made a lasting impact on him. I’m not saying attending that game would have convinced him to take his talents to Columbus, but it couldn’t have hurt.
Losing two players to conference rivals in one weekend is difficult enough to accept. Unfortunately for Matta, there have been other swing and misses between the loss of Hood in the spring and now.
Forward Ishmael Wainwright of Missouri and forward/center Devin Williams of Cincinnati were also primary targets for Matta and his coaching staff. However, Wainwright committed to Baylor and Williams elected to attend West Virginia.
BeeJay Anya of Maryland was scheduled for an Ohio State visit on Oct. 5 but didn’t even show. He later committed to North Carolina State.
So what exactly is going on in the recruiting world for the Buckeyes? Has Matta lost his golden touch when it comes to convincing the nation’s best prospects to join his program?
Let’s not jump the gun just yet. Sure, things haven’t gone as planned, but it hasn’t been all bad news. Matta received commitments from 6’8” wing player Marc Loving of Toledo and 6’2” guard Kameron Williams of Baltimore this offseason.
Williams should light it up from downtown when he arrives and Loving provides the Buckeyes with some midrange versatility.
Part of the problem when you go after the best players in the nation is that you are facing competition from the best programs in the nation. Unless your name is John Calipari, you are going to miss out on more targets than you land.
The more pressing question is where do the Buckeyes turn next?
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Matta unofficially offered 21 prospects scholarships in the class of 2013. He is now only in the running for two, but they are the type of players that can completely change how you feel about a recruiting year.
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Those two players are the highly-regarded 6’10” center Dakari Johnson and 6’7” Andrew Wiggins, who is only considered the top player in the class of 2013.
Both Johnson and Wiggins reclassified from 2014 within the past month and will reportedly not sign until spring.
Besides Ohio State, Wiggins is rumored to be considering Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse. Johnson has his eye on Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse.
The easy answer to the question of where Matta should turn to next on the recruiting trail would be to put the full-court press on these two players. If he could land one of these two prizes, Buckeye fans would feel a lot better about the class of 2013.
However, things aren’t always that simple. That is some stiff competition that the Buckeyes face for these two prospects, so it would probably serve Matta well to broaden his horizons a bit.
If it was up to me I would devote half my recruiting time to the wooing of the uber-talented Wiggins and Johnson and the other half to finding new players, even if they aren’t five-star specialties.
Of course, Ohio State shouldn’t just use the scholarships available just to use them, but if they can find a hidden gem or two the overall class will look much better.
Just because a prospect is somewhat under-the-radar doesn’t mean he is a bad option. Just ask Aaron Craft.