Battling Jared Sullinger daily in practice for a year wasn’t enough for Evan Ravenel. He had to have more competition with arguably one of the best players in all of college basketball.
So the junior transfer challenged Sullinger, his roommate, off the floor to a challenge this summer to see who could lose more weight.
This time, Sullinger lost.
“We kind of turned it into a little competition thing of who could lose the most weight,” Ravenel said. “Me and Jared were really competitive with each other.”
Given Sullinger’s status as one of the most recognizable faces in college basketball, his noticeably slimmer body was one of the main stories as Ohio State prepared to kick off the 2011-12 season.
Unnoticed went the continued progress off the floor of Ravenel, who has been working on his weight for quite some time. Weighing 315 points as a junior in high school, Ravenel played between 275 and 285 pounds while at Boston College.
Since his transfer to Ohio State, he has dropped roughly 35 more pounds. A lot of that progress, of course, was made while battling Sullinger during the offseason.
“I started to look better,” quipped the 6-8, 250-pound Ravenel when asked about the difference in his game now that he’s reached his goal weight. “Moving in basketball became a lot easier. Being able to do certain moves at 250 rather than at like 280 or 290, it makes you a different basketball player. It makes you a more complete basketball player.”
Despite being in the program for a year, Ravenel’s role on this year’s team was about as much of a question as how several incoming freshmen would fit into head coach Thad Matta’s rotation. In Ohio State’s first marquee win of the season over No. 7 Florida on Nov. 15, Ravenel properly introduced himself.
Though it is hard to blame Matta for being hesitant to take Sullinger off the floor at any point – especially during a nationally televised nonconference showdown such as the one with Florida – the head coach had no choice when his star sophomore picked up his third foul in the second half against the Gators.
Off the bench came Ravenel, who spelled Sullinger for roughly six minutes. In the process, Ravenel helped the Buckeyes extend their lead over the Gators, who at the time were hoping to scrap back into the game.
During his time on the floor, Ravenel knocked down an 18-foot jumper, finished an alley-oop dunk from sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, grabbed a rebound and took a charge. In all, he finished with seven points against the Gators.
“We definitely needed that (type of effort),” Matta said. “Anytime you look to your bench, you’re looking at guys you want to come in and perform certain duties or fulfill certain roles, and I felt like Evan did a tremendous job of that against Florida.
“Just his energy on defense and the things he was doing are exactly what we need from him.”
Sullinger wasn’t surprised with what he saw during his time on the bench, referring to the spark Ravenel brought to the team as “the usual.”
For Ravenel, a Florida native, it was his opportunity to reintroduce himself in a big way to major-college basketball after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
“It was definitely nice to be able to go in there and feel like you took your team to the next level and brought some intensity off the bench,” he said. “But that’s what Coach Matta stresses to the players that come off the bench.”
Not going as far as calling himself a stationary post player while at Boston College, Ravenel said his ability to move up and down the floor, bring intensity on defense and even add an offensive spark is what Matta acknowledges the team needs from him.
During Ohio State’s win over Jackson State on Nov. 18, Ravenel played well again, knocking down 3 of 5 shot attempts for six points, adding three assists and a steal.
“I’ve been patiently waiting to get back out there,” Ravenel said. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot over the last year by working with guys like Jared, (former OSU center Dallas Lauderdale) and (former forward) David Lighty). I’ve been real anxious to get in the game.”
In a perfect world, Sullinger can play over 35 minutes and avoid foul trouble. In Big Ten play specifically, that won’t always be the case, and Matta feels a lot more comfortable knowing he has Ravenel on the bench.
“I think we saw signs early on this year that he was going to be a very good basketball player for us, and hopefully he can continue to do those things,” Matta said. “Evan understands he has a role to fulfill on this team. As long as he continues to embrace that role and gets easy buckets, gets the rebounds, that’s big for us.”
Ohio State hosts North Florida in Value City Arena tonight at 8:30 p.m.
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