Looking over the history of college basketball recruiting, or even Ohio State recruiting in particular, is akin to comparing apples and oranges.
The differences in recruiting today, when the impact of Andrew Wiggins’ breakfast choice gets broken down by 30 different sources, as contrasted with the days of John Havlicek are astronomical. There is naturally more hype surrounding recent Buckeye commitments based on the nature of media alone. But that doesn’t mean the stars of yesteryear didn’t receive their fair share of relative buzz.
Read on to see the five most hyped recruits in Ohio State history. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of Scout.com unless otherwise noted.
Thad Matta had the inside lane on Jared Sullinger’s recruiting long before he received the national hype that came from his Naismith Award as the country’s top high school player.
Former Buckeye J.J. Sullinger got in Matta’s ear about Jared before the younger Sullinger even finished his first season of prep ball. The ironic part is that archrival Michigan was the first school to offer him a scholarship. But there was no way the Columbus native was leaving home once Ohio State began to show interest.
Sullinger had one of the most decorated high school careers in Ohio State history. The hype surrounding his commitment was the primary reason Buckeye fans were still so optimistic heading into the 2010 season even without superstar Evan Turner. If the lack of drama regarding which school he would choose dampened the buzz around Sullinger on a national level, it did no such thing within the confines of Buckeye Nation.
Mike Conley Jr. may be starring in the NBA playoffs right now for the Memphis Grizzlies, but back in 2006 he was best known as the Robin to future superstar Greg Oden’s Batman.
Conley, Daequan Cook, Othello Hunter and David Lighty were all part of the “Thad Five” brought in by head coach Thad Matta as his 2006 recruiting class. It was the first lastful impact that Matta had at Ohio State because his squad was ineligible for the postseason thanks to Jim O’Brien the previous year (which made the big win over No. 1 Illinois in 2005 bittersweet).
The “Thad Five” group and the hype that surrounded it really brought basketball back to the limelight for the football-crazed Buckeye fanbase. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say Ohio State supporters as a whole didn’t really invest that much into basketball for a handful of years before that group came to campus.
Conley and company made up the No. 2 class in the country, but it was the Buckeyes, and not No. 1 class North Carolina, that played in the national championship game that season.
When a basketball player gets a street named after him in the town he played his high school basketball, you know he was a hot commodity for colleges across the nation.
That is exactly what happened for Jim Jackson when a Toledo Street, where he played prep ball at Macomber High School, was coined “Jimmy Jackson Way” in 2010.
Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American when he played for Macomber and led his school to its first ever state title in basketball. He was a bona fide superstar and fielded offers from a number of different schools throughout the Midwest and entire country.
Jackson ended up staying close to home when he chose Ohio State. Now his number hangs in the rafters at Value City Arena as a result. The Buckeyes were regulars in the AP poll during Jackson’s tenure in Columbus, and they even reached the Elite Eight largely because of his excellent play.
Compared to the 24/7 coverage that recruiting gets from some circles today, the covering of high school stars committing to college back in the late 1950s was primitive. Of course, it mattered for the future of one’s program of choice. But the public by and large was much less concerned about things such as national signing day and high school players choosing between hats on a table.
Jerry Lucas, on the other hand, inspired a great amount of attention during his time at Middletown High School. His squads went on to win two Ohio state championships, and he didn’t lose a single game in the 1956 or 1957 seasons. He also set the national high school scoring record as a senior.
His efforts garnered an incredible (especially for that day and age) 150 scholarship offers. Lucas chose to stay in state and become a Buckeye, which only made him more of a fan favorite in Ohio. He went on to become arguably the best Ohio State player of all time and won the school its lone national title (alongside John Havlicek).
Had Lucas played in today’s hype-driven recruiting world, he would have inspired LeBron James-like buzz.
Unfortunately when basketball fans think of Greg Oden now, they only think of chronic injury issues. But he was as close to a one-man dynasty in high school as players come, even with a litany of talented teammates.
He was a two-time Parade and Gatorade National Player of the Year, won three consecutive Indiana state titles, graced the pages of Sports Illustrated as an underclassman in high school, caught the eye of every single major college program in the country and would have been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft as an 18-year-old had the one-and-done rule not been instituted.
Thad Matta landed the country’s top prize, and the result was a trip to the national title game in Oden’s sole collegiate season.
All the things that were mentioned in the “Thad Five” slide with the rest of the players apply to Oden as well. He (even more so than his teammates) was the primary reason there was so much buzz surrounding a basketball program that had been starving for so long.
It is easy to forget nowadays how talented and dominant Oden was as a teenager, but the hype surrounding his recruitment was more intense than any in the history of Buckeye basketball.