Before he was a two-time national champion, Urban Meyer cut his teeth as the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame. And while the current Buckeyes head coach doesn't hear "no" often on the recruiting trail, one of his biggest misses came when he failed to convince LeBron James to take his talents to South Bend.
Although to be completely fair, Meyer never really stood a chance.
After James put together a stellar sophomore season as a wide receiver at Akron, Ohio's, St. Vincent-St. Mary in 2000, Meyer extended him a scholarship offer. But as it turned out, the then-Notre Dame assistant was unaware of his target's talents elsewhere.
"'Thank you very much, I'll consider it,' and his coach started laughing," said Meyer (via Rivals), recalling James' response to his scholarship offer. "I didn't know what he was laughing at, so we went down and sat in a room and he said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said, 'No' and he said, 'LeBron James' and I said, 'Who's LeBron James?' and he said, 'He'll be the next Michael Jordan' and I go, 'Come on.'"
Meyer would go on to become the head coach at Bowling Green in 2001 while the Cleveland Cavaliers selected James first overall in the 2003 NBA draft. Both men would head to the Sunshine State to capture a pair of titles each—Meyer with Florida and James with the Miami Heat—before returning back to their Ohio roots.
Nearly three years after Meyer returned to Ohio to coach the Buckeyes in 2011, James followed suit by announcing his return to the Cavs. And while he may not have opted to catch passes for the Fighting Irish 14 years ago, the four-time NBA MVP has since maintained a relationship with Meyer, which will only benefit the Buckeyes upon his return to the Buckeye State.
The King's Pitch
It's no secret that James is a big Ohio State fan, having made his presence felt on the sideline for football games and courtside at Buckeye basketball games in recent years. Last year, the then-reigning NBA Finals MVP made a splash when he attended Ohio State's prime-time battle with Wisconsin, and Meyer did the most he could to maximize The King's presence.
As has been customary in Columbus since Meyer took over in 2012, there was no shortage of blue-chip prospects in attendance for the Buckeyes' nighttime affair. But these Ohio State targets were treated to something different, as they witnessed James publicly address a pep rally and privately deliver a pregame speech.
And from all indications, the best basketball player in the world's presence delivered Meyer's desired effect.
With his schedule taking him back to the shores of the Biscayne Bay before the end of fall, last season's game against Wisconsin was the only one in which James was able to attend. But with James now just a two-hour drive down I-71 away and three September home games on Ohio State's slate, expect him to be in Columbus as often as possible during the Buckeyes' 2014 campaign.
Learning From Greatness
Perhaps more so than any other superstar of his era, James has enjoyed playing the role of mentor. That was evident in his essay explaining his decision to return to Cleveland as he discussed the Cavs' youthful roster.
"I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters."
It would be safe to assume that LeBron's lessons would extend to Columbus as well. In fact, some of them already have.
While James' relationship-turned-partnership with Johnny Manziel has drawn more attention, the 10-time NBA All-Star has also developed a bond with Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller. The two have been exchanging tweets since Miller's freshman season and just this past year, James referred to the two-time Big Ten MVP as his "lil bro."
With Miller now right down the road and James having been issued an open invitation to the Ohio State facilities, the senior quarterback will only have more access to one of the world's greatest athletes. The same goes for any other budding star on the Buckeyes roster, as James has proved himself to be one of college sports' biggest fans.
Strive For Greatness
As for the basketball Buckeyes, Ohio State's offseason open gyms are often littered with NBA talent thanks to the likes of Mike Conley Jr., Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Greg Oden. But if James' time in Miami is any indication, these scrimmages may have just picked up a little more star power.
James became a fixture at Miami Hurricanes' open gyms, often bringing along fellow NBA friends. Former U-M coach Frank Haith admitted to James' presence being an advantage for the Hurricanes, in more ways than one.
"No question, it's great having those guys here," Haith said at the time, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "It's a great influence for our players. They're some of the greatest players in the NBA, so it's obviously great for our guys and our program."
The drive might be a bit longer for James in Ohio than it was in Florida, but don't be surprised to see him mixing it up with the scarlet and gray on a regular basis. It would even be a mutually beneficial relationship for both, as James could provide his presence and Ohio State could give him the top open gym in the state.
And then there's the way that James raises everybody's game around him, whether he's playing or not. That was evident in Columbus when James was immersed in the NBA lockout in 2011 and opted to sit courtside for OSU's much-anticipated matchup with Duke.
The Sullinger-led Buckeyes beat down the Blue Devils, walking away with an 85-63 victory. Was James' presence a coincidence? Perhaps. But Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas insisted to me at the time that the arrival of King James—as well as Dwyane Wade—added something to the atmosphere in Columbus that night.
“I saw them over there. They’re guys you watch in the NBA every day,” Thomas said of James and Wade. “It was great motivation to show off for them, ‘cause they show off for us when they’re on the TV.”
Now that LeBron's back home, Buckeyes on both the hardwood and gridiron alike have an excuse to show off all the more often.