Ohio State will forever be known as a football powerhouse first and foremost, but the basketball program has significantly closed the gap under Thad Matta. Part of that process is sending players to the next level, which Matta has done on a consistent basis.
While the NBA jury is still out on many of Matta’s young players, there have been some formidable professionals who spent their college years in Columbus. With that in mind, read on to see the Buckeyes’ five best-ever NBA products.
The statistics and facts used in formatting this list come from Basketball-Reference.
Michael Redd was never the flashiest player at the college or professional level, which probably contributes to the fact that he flies under the radar in discussions like this.
Yet Redd is one of the best Ohio State NBA players of all time, especially when he was at his peak. The longtime Milwaukee shooting guard last played for the Phoenix Suns, but he made his name as a Buck.
Redd is second in Milwaukee history in three-point percentage behind only Ray Allen (no shame in being behind Allen) and is the all-time Buckeye leader in the same stat. His career-high point-per-game average during a season was 26.7, and he boasts six separate campaigns of averaging at least 21 points a night.
Redd also won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is one of the top three per-game scorers of all NBA Buckeyes (19 over his entire career).
Arnie Risen isn’t going to turn many heads when discussing NBA players, especially among today’s fans, but the man is a member of the Hall of Fame. Regardless of the era he played in, the Hall of Fame serves as a formidable trump card.
Risen played for the Rochester Royals and Boston Celtics during his professional career and was a four-time NBA All-Star. He finished his career averaging nearly a double-double (12 points and 9.7 rebounds per night), but during his prime he consistently averaged closer to 15 points and 12 rebounds a game.
The 6’9” Risen also served as a solid contributor for two NBA championship teams.
Much like Arnie Risen, Neil Johnston is not very well known among current (read: younger) Ohio State basketball fans. That doesn’t change the fact that he belongs on this list and is one of the best NBA Buckeyes of all time.
Johnston played his entire career for the Philadelphia Warriors and was a six-time NBA All-Star. He posted more than 22 points per game in five separate seasons and actually led the Association in scoring for three consecutive years (1952-55).
The 6’8” center averaged a double-double for his career at 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds a night (both rank in the top three all-time for NBA Buckeyes). He won an NBA title and is a deserving member of the Hall of Fame.
Here’s the portion of the show where we start moving into the big leagues.
Jerry Lucas is one of the most highly regarded players in the history of the Big Ten and the NBA. He played for the New York Knicks, San Francisco Warriors and Cincinnati Royals throughout his career and was named one of the league’s top 50 players of all time.
Among the litany of achievements he posted in the Association, Lucas won a gold medal, was named the Rookie of the Year, qualified for seven All-Star games and capped it all off with a Hall of Fame induction.
Among Ohio State NBA players, Lucas grabbed the most total rebounds by a significant margin (12,942) and averaged better than 15 a night. He also ranks in the top 10 among Buckeye ballers in points per game. He's top five in total assists and leads in minutes per night.
Lucas is arguably one of the best couple of players in Big Ten history, but his production did not stop at the collegiate level.
Jerry Lucas may have had a more illustrious college career than John Havlicek, but when discussing NBA productivity, the lifetime Boston Celtic is the undisputed top Buckeye.
Havlicek leads all Ohio State NBA players in points per game (nearly 21 a night), total assists (his 6,114 are by far the most) and total points (26,395). He won eight NBA titles in Boston, was a 13-time NBA All-Star and was simply one of the best to ever suit up at the professional level. He is a very deserving member of the Hall of Fame.
In eight separate seasons, Havlicek averaged more than 20 points a night (with an incredible high of 28.9 in 1970-71). He was named the MVP of the 1974 NBA Finals. His career statistics would look even better if steals were kept as an official stat for much of his career, because he was considered one of the premier defensive weapons of his time.
In fact, one of his steals lives on as one of the most famous play-by-play calls of all time.
Both Ohio State and the Celtics have retired his number.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.