Ohio State fans had plenty to cheer about as the Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16 with authority Sunday…
Senior guard Jon Diebler and freshman guard Aaron Craft boast a shared past, with Craft's father having served as Diebler's middle-school coach in Fostoria, Ohio. When the freshman arrived on campus this summer, his long-time friend immediately started harassing him in a friendly manner.
That was enough to get Dallas Lauderdale, a hulking senior forward, to come to the defense of the 6-2 Craft, who is the shortest scholarship player on the roster.
"He's my little brother," Lauderdale said of Craft. "We just have different skin colors, but he's still my brother. Jon always used to pick on Aaron and I didn't like that. When Aaron first came in I didn't know the relationship that Jon and Aaron had. Jon used to bully him and I didn't appreciate that so one day I just had Aaron's back and helped him out."
David Lighty entered the picture, Lauderdale said, because the two have been battling back and forth since eighth grade. Both seniors and natives of northeast Ohio, Lighty is one year older than Lauderdale and took a medical redshirt two seasons ago.
With Lauderdale and Craft aligned against Diebler, Lighty came to the rescue. As it turns out, he had also been picking on the freshman.
"I don't even know how it happened," Lighty said. "They just teamed up against us I guess, a big brother/little brother type of thing. Dallas got mad at me beating up Craft all the time but he kept picking with me so I had to show him."
The result has been an ongoing friendly rivalry that has each of the four aforementioned players afraid to be caught alone. Thursday afternoon, Craft pointed to a slight bruise on his right shin as he described an attack from Lighty that took place the night before.
As has been the case, the bigger player got the better of the deal.
"Dave is a little older than I am and he's got a little more strength than I do," Craft said. "I don't like to back down from anything so it's been an ongoing thing throughout the season. I probably got the better of him once or twice out of about 20. I'm probably about 10 percent. I'm just waiting for that next one."
Craft went on to mention that senior walk-on Eddie Days had the incident on film and that he had watched the tape like he would a scouting report to try and improve his performance.
When Diebler was asked Saturday about the ongoing battles between his teammates, he began boasting that he could handle the 6-8, 255-pound Lauderdale on his own. To prove a point, Lauderdale walked across the locker room inside Quicken Loans Arena, got low and hoisted the 6-6, 205-pound Diebler into the air, nearly cracking his head on the ceiling.
Once the guard got his feet back on the ground, he wrestled for position and wound up containing the forward in a headlock. Later, as Lighty was being interviewed, a full-fledged battle broke out among the four.
It was just one example of a team that appears as loose as ever. Also seen during the open locker room portion were competitive games of tic-tac-toe and a juggling contest featuring William Buford and Nikola Kecman.
The key to victory, apparently, is the element of surprise.
"If Jon will be in his room by himself, me and Craft will gang up on him," Lauderdale said. "Jon and Dave have ganged up on me before and they've ganged up on Craft but that's how we try to structure it. We try to find the weakest person when they're alone and then attack them and run away before Dave gets back or whatever."
That is especially important for Craft as he attempts to hold his own against Lighty.
"When he's focused, you don't have much hope at all," the freshman said. "You catch him off guard, you throw him on the bed and you run out. You don't let the fight move on. I've done that a couple times: come up behind him, thrown him on the bed, run out, close my door and he can't get me so I take that as a win."
Aside from the occasional bump and bruise, the end result is a tighter team bond, Diebler said.
"We love to have a good time," he said. "We just love being around each other. I know we've referenced this but we'll come to practice an hour and a half before we have to be there just so we can hang out in the locker room, play ping pong (and) joke around with each other. Our chemistry on this team is awesome. It's a fun team to be around."
Unless you are caught alone, that is.