It might be easier to ask who will not be helping out at the point guard position this season for Ohio State rather than who will.
With reigning national player of the year Evan Turner preparing for his rookie season in the NBA, the 2010-11 Buckeyes begin the task of replacing the player through whom nearly their entire offense attack flowed last season. But while statistics can be accounted for, the presence of a bona fide ball handler can be more difficult to replace.
As the Buckeyes competed during open gym sessions, senior forward Dallas Lauderdale said he had a number of options after grabbing defensive rebounds.
“When we played in the summer, whoever got the ball brought it up,” Lauderdale said, referring to William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty. “If they got the rebound, they would bring it up no problem. The other team was usually (Aaron Craft) or whomever.
“It didn’t really matter. I didn’t really have a set point guard I was looking for. I looked for all three of them and whoever I saw first, I passed the ball to them.”
So begins the process of figuring out who will direct the offensive attack for a team predicted to be among the top 10 in the nation when the season begins. Practice starts Friday with the first official game of the regular season slated for Nov. 12 against North Carolina A&T.
The Buckeyes return four of five starters from last year’s team that advanced to the Sweet 16 while using one of the shortest rotations in the nation. That year's squad got an early start by taking part in a 10-day trip to Canada that allowed a team devoid of seniors to get a jumpstart on the season.
It also allowed Turner to settle into the role that would allow him to grow into the nation’s top player. This year, the Buckeyes are starting fresh.
Head coach Thad Matta said he will seek to both find a main point guard and try to get his five best players on the court. That could mean a number of potential lineups for the Buckeyes.
To a man, Buford, Diebler and Lighty each said they have spent the months since last season working on improving their dribbling abilities. Freshmen are not made available to the media until after they have played their first game. Matta pointed out that each of the upperclassmen was tasked with handing the ball at one point or another last season.
In other words, players like Diebler will not be asked to assume radically different roles than the ones they have enjoyed the past few seasons.
“My goal is still going to be to stretch the defense,” said Diebler, the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers. “But coach also challenged me to work on my ball-handling to add that other dimension to my game. The better that I become at putting the ball on the floor, not only will it help me out but it will help our team out a lot.”
Entering the mix is Craft, who is billed as a true point guard. When fielding his first question about him, Matta initially called him Evan before correcting himself.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a freshman come to camp that’s more ready to go physically than he was,” Matta said. “One of the things we talked to him about … was his ability to knock down open shots and he’s shown that he can do that. We always liked his defense and that’s been very steady.
“Aaron is the type of kid that anything you ask him to do, he’s going to do it.’
In that case, will they ask him to run the point this season?
“You take this first month and really try to hone in and define roles for guys and make it simpler for them,” Matta said. “I think that a lot of it is depending on we get a couple weeks into the season and really try to get an understanding of who we are. Really, the majority of what we’ve done to this point with the limited time that we’ve had has been strictly defense, for the most part.”
Asked if there is a specific type of point guard he prefers, Matta laughed and said, “the one I’ve got.”
In addition, freshman Lenzelle Smith was a candidate for reps at the position as well but has been sidelined after undergoing wrist surgery during the summer. He was not sporting any sort of protective brace during media day and Matta said he is expected to be on the court for non-contact action Nov. 1.
After that, he could resume drills a few weeks later. Any talk of redshirting will not be broached until the coaches see how well he assimilates into action.
Lauderdale said he was counting the minutes until practice begins Friday at 5 p.m. Only then will the Buckeyes be able to stop asking who will fill Turner’s shoes and start trying to actually fill them.
“It’s not too much of an adjustment because we’ve been together since the beginning of the summer,” Buford said. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys who can bring a lot to the table.