Ohio State identified its top target for the 2012 class and Tony Parker knew it. Now that Lithonia (Ga.) Miller Grove big man, who eventually committed to UCLA, can look back at his recruitment objectively, he recognizes the Buckeyes’ coaching staff did all it possibly could have done.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, there’s nothing to be gained by finishing second in recruiting. Jeff Boals, who led the Buckeyes’ recruiting efforts with Parker – one of the best players at his position in the class – is left now with nothing to show for the countless hours he spent building the relationship.
“Coach Boals was one of my closest friends,” Parker told BSB, citing the respect and admiration he had for the Ohio State assistant during the process. “He is a great guy. We talked almost every other day. Ohio State led for me all the way up until the day before my decision. UCLA was just the right place for me at the end.”
Such comments make the life of a college basketball coach seem less glamorous, specifically when it comes to dealing with the stresses of trying to land top national talents. Those are the rigors coaches in Boals’ position have to constantly live with.
Ohio State’s coaches may have found themselves subjected to those pressures more often than they’ve had to in the past when considering how head coach Thad Matta and the staff mapped out its recruiting philosophy for the 2012 class.
“In the 2012 class, the way Ohio State went about things was interesting to me,” Scout.com national basketball recruiting analyst Brian Snow told BSB. “The staff really took their recruiting focuses nationally instead of focusing on the talent in their region in states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Obviously it’s harder to land prospects that are in areas far away from your campus, but that’s what they leaned on.”
Ohio State inked one prospect in its 2012 class in Amedeo Della Valle, a three-star shooting guard from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. Recruiting Della Valle, however, wasn’t where the staff spent most of its time during the course of the past year.
As with Parker, the Buckeyes identified the most promising players in the class – most of whom were far from the Midwest – and went after them. Ohio State was somewhat limited in the offers it gave out, but the ones it did issue went to top prospects who were going to be tough to ultimately sign, even with the Buckeyes’ recent success on the court that compares favorably to the national elite.
“Ohio State has always been at its best when they’re recruiting close to home,” Scout.com national basketball recruiting analyst Evan Daniels told BSB. “I think that’s pretty much the case with any school recruiting the surrounding areas of their campus. That’s the way it is.”
“I think it hurt them a little that Ohio, as a state, has been down a little the past few years. I am sure that has factored into (them going national) a little. When they have been at their best from a recruiting standpoint, they’ve been recruiting locally and stepping out a state or two and grabbing a guy.”
Ohio State did its best to find an immediate stopgap for center Jared Sullinger, who left the program after his sophomore season to pursue a professional career in the NBA. The staff also tried to brace itself for the potential early departure of sophomore power forward Deshaun Thomas. The Buckeyes, however, were unsuccessful in landing either a power forward or a center in the 2012 class.
It wasn’t because Ohio State didn’t try, though, as it offered Parker and DeWitt (N.Y.) Jamesville center DaJuan Coleman, a five-star prospect who eventually opted to stay close to home at Syracuse.
Other prospects Ohio State pursued but was unsuccessful in signing were Wynnewood (Pa.) Friends’ Central power forward Amile Jefferson (Duke); Cordova (S.C.) Edisto power forward Brice Johnson (North Carolina); Reserve (La.) Riverside Academy power forward Ricardo Gathers (Baylor); Sugar Land, Texas, small forward Danuel House (Baylor); and Snellville (Ga.) Shiloh center Robert Carter (Georgia Tech).
The above players – all of whom were out of Ohio State’s region of the country – were rated highly by Scout as players who could potentially make an immediate impact for their suitors. When Ohio State missed on all of them, many questioned the staff’s recruiting philosophy.
“A lot of what we (did in 2012) was based on timing, need and who was out there based on our roster,” Boals told BSB. “We feel comfortable with the way we (approached) things for that class and our continued ways of doing things, while focusing on the Midwest and our surrounding areas, moving forward.”
Given that the Buckeyes landed only one commitment in the class, the last year has been rather slow on the recruiting front. Because the Buckeyes were unable to make a big splash in the class, it’s easy to wonder if the team approached things in the most efficient way on the recruiting trail.
That’s even more apparent when recruiting experts identified talent in the Midwest at the same positions Ohio State was unsuccessful recruiting nationally.
For example, the Buckeyes paid little attention to two top big man prospects in Chicago Simeon power forward Steve Taylor, a four-star prospect headed to Marquette, and four-star center A.J. Hammons of Carmel, Ind. Hammons, who finished his prep career at basketball powerhouse Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill, ended up committing to Purdue. Ohio State recruited Hammons early in the process but stopped heavily pursuing him as time progressed.
“I thought their needs could have been addressed very easily within 250 miles of their campus,” Snow said. “There are All-Americans at every position around this area.”
But there’s more to analyzing a recruiting philosophy than seeing what players the staff was unsuccessful in landing and comparing that list to prep stars the program opted not to recruit aggressively.
Ohio State, of course, lost only Sullinger and shooting guard William Buford after last season but is comfortable with the array of youthful players currently on the roster. The Buckeyes certainly would have loved to fill in the holes with players such as Parker or Coleman, but the team was unsuccessful in landing those high-profile guys.
Matta and his staff, however, didn’t feel pressured to immediately find players to fill out the 2012 class because of the abundance of youth on the current roster. Recruiting nationally – specifically after the success Matta has enjoyed in his eight years with the program, which include two Final Four appearances – is something the team is more than comfortable doing.
“Thad has put the program in the situation where it is a top-five program in the country with his success the past seven years,” Boals said. “With the increased visibility of the program, it has been well-received not only in Ohio, throughout the Midwest, but also the nation.”
The Buckeyes will continue to pursue top talents regardless of location, but that won’t be the sole source of incoming players. Ohio State’s staff recognizes how it’s been able to rebuild the current program, and it started with recruiting the Midwest as well as, if not better than, any other program in the Big Ten.
Perhaps the two most prominent Buckeyes under Matta were Greg Oden and Sullinger, both of whom are from the Midwest. Oden and prep teammate Mike Conley Jr., also an eventual first round NBA draft pick, both came from Indianapolis, while Sullinger is a Columbus native.
Ohio State seems to be following that same blueprint as the future progresses. The Buckeyes have been all over the region getting in early with influential prospects from the 2013 and ’14 classes, even earning a pledge from four-star Toledo St. John’s forward Marc Loving for 2013. In 2014 specifically, the Buckeyes are expected to sign a rather big class that will have major influence on the continued rise of the program.
“We are always going to start our recruiting in Ohio and the Midwest and then branch out from there,” Boals said. “It is very important to us, and some of our best teams have had majority of in-state talent. Last year our starting five was from Ohio, so we’re always going to recruit this state. There are a lot of great players and great coaches in the state, and those people often make for a solid foundation for our program.”
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