The past few months for the Ohio State basketball program have basically been a case study in the volatility of recruiting.
First the Buckeyes were sitting pretty with commitments from wing player Marc Loving and sharp-shooter Kameron Williams. Then came a wave of bad news and near misses, and it seemed like the sky was falling and the future was bleak.
As it turns out, the sky is still in place, and there will still be basketball in Columbus even after Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas eventually depart.
Keita Bates-Diop, a 6’7” forward from Illinois, became the first member of Thad Matta’s 2014 recruiting class this weekend. All of a sudden, everything looks great through those Scarlet and Gray-tinted glasses again.
Before we get to Bates-Diop, let’s briefly summarize the recent struggles that the Buckeyes have experienced on the recruiting trail with various targets.
Rodney Hood, a childhood friend of current Buckeye LaQuinton Ross, transferred from Mississippi State to Duke. BeeJay Anya decided to cancel his visit to Columbus and committed to North Carolina State.
Moreover, Ishmail Wainright chose Baylor, Devin Williams elected to attend West Virginia, Nigel Hayes is going to Wisconsin and, perhaps most damaging of all, ESPN 150 top-10 prospect Noah Vonleh committed to Tom Crean and Indiana.
Be it the failure to keep up with the overall depth of Midwestern basketball or just a recruiting slump, something was off with the typically strong recruiting efforts of Thad Matta, and the negative momentum was building.
But while Buckeye fans have been fretting about the strikeouts in the 2013 class, Matta and his coaching staff were looking to get a head start on 2014.
That 2014 class will be absolutely critical for Ohio State, given its current roster makeup. Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas will be gone, and the sophomore group of Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson will be seniors that year.
By 2015, there will basically be an entirely new roster in Columbus, and the 2014 recruiting class will be an integral part of that.
That is why Bates-Diop’s commitment is such a crucial first step in building that group, and ebbing the negative recruiting energy that has surround the program recently.
Bates-Diop is listed as a power forward prospect, but Matta will reportedly be using him in the small forward slot. Bates-Diop claimed that the best part of his game is his versatility, thanks largely to his shooting effectiveness for his size.
When he does get on the court, he may remind Buckeye fans of a Deshaun Thomas or LaQuinton Ross, because he can post up and shoot over smaller defenders.
An important part of the Bates-Diop signing in terms of stopping the negative recruiting momentum is that he was sought after by a number of other Big Ten teams. Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Purdue were all reportedly pursuing him at one point.
Hayes and Vonleh both elected other Big Ten schools over the Buckeyes, so this is a nice pick up for Matta.
Perhaps an overlooked aspect of Bates-Diop’s decision is the fact that he said Assistant Coach Jeff Boals was the primary recruiter that he was in contact with during his decision process.
That is a positive sign for Buckeye fans hoping that Boals is able to establish himself in the lead assistant/recruiter position under Matta—a position that John Groce thrived in before leaving to take the head coaching job at Ohio.
All in all, signing Bates-Diop is crucial for the Bucks because there is more to this signing than just what he adds on the basketball floor.
It is the first positive recruiting news in a while for the program, and a critical step in the building of an important 2014 class.
Who knows? Maybe the momentum his recruitment reestablishes will play a factor in the pursuit of top 2013 prospect Andrew Wiggins.