When Thad Matta took over the Buckeye basketball program in 2004, no player had been drafted after their time in Columbus in nearly three years. Not one single player had been taken in the first round since the great Jim Jackson in 1992.
Since then, the coach known for his developmental abilities has watched eight unique players fly off the draft boards.
In 2007, Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook made the jump after one year to professional basketball. In 2008, Kosta Koufos and BJ Mullens followed the same path.
Maybe it’s because Koufos and Mullens didn’t pan out to what they could of been. It might have to do with the fact that he gains the trust of all his players. But ever since those two classes, Matta has convinced talented players to stay for a second or third season.
And turned them into superstars.
Ohio State might not be the only basketball program in the country that continuously develops stud freshman into sophomore superstars. But over the last few years, they have set the tone on displaying to unpolished recruits that in a few years, they can become some of the most talented players in college basketball.
The last two years, it’s been Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft.
Sullinger fine tuned his mechanics, improved his outside game, and became more dominant in the post. We know that if he would of left after his freshman year, he would of been a lottery pick. After enduring his sophomore season and grinding his way to the final four, he is more prepared for what’s next.
Craft has developed from a sixth man with defensive abilities, to a lock down on the ball defender. He’s now a true floor general on both sides of the floor. A warrior that will lead this team into battle next season.
Thomas has evolved into an NBA type prospect, improving his field goal percentage by 4% in just one season. We know going into his third year that he will take over ballgames with his offensive ability. But what sticks out is his vast improvement defensively down the stretch run last season.
Now begins a new cycle, as Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams begin their second year as major contributors.
Yet Thad Matta’s X-factor next season is a 6’8″ swing guard that played just 35 minutes in his freshman campaign.
Nobody has doubted what LaQuinton Ross can do on the court.
Truth is – he has the talent, motivation and intangibles to be the next superstar produced by Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.
After being deemed ineligible at the beginning of the season, Ross could of made many different choices. He could of packed up his bags and headed elsewhere to play college ball. He could of not taken responsibility and the lumps that come with stepping into Thad Matta’s system your first year into the program.
And when he was driven to say things through frustration (on twitter of course) after a 78-68 Buckeye win over Minnesota, he apologized to his teammates, coaches and Buckeye Nation.
Now he looks to turn myth into reality for the fans of Ohio State basketball. With the improvement gained by an off-season dedicated, there’s no gauge on how good Ross can be in his sophomore campaign.
In fact, he might already be the best one on one player on the roster. Like Sam ‘All Jam Thompson, he has no fear when going to the hoop. He finishes with authority. The jump shot we already have seen, is as smooth as silk. And if he needs to, he’ll clear space with the fadeaway jumper. His game translates perfectly with the talent surrounding him sans Jared Sullinger and William Buford.
A team that plans to be more Agile outrun you up and down the floor.
Heading into his first full season, there will be a lot of pressure for Ross to step up is game and become a key contributor offensively right out of the gates.The beauty is that he will be given the platform to flourish in his sophomore season.
So as all of the college basketball wonders how the Buckeyes will replace Sullinger and Buford, Thad Matta is smiling as his young talent blossoms into what could be the most athletic team in school history.
Meanwhile, LaQuinton Ross is already working to turn hype into reality on the hardwood.