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Sitting directly behind the Ohio State bench, the program's student section incessantly chanted his name. That didn't help LaQuinton Ross – he knew his warm-ups weren't coming off.
Those chants were often a follow-up to the countless comments Ross read on the Internet during the day, whether it was on Ohio State basketball message boards or the handful of social media websites he used.
The legend of LaQuinton Ross wasn’t lost on anyone. It especially wasn’t lost on Ross, who was experiencing bench life for the first time in his basketball career.
“The hype was so crazy in the beginning because you start to think like maybe you’re doing something wrong,” Ross told BSB. “It was frustrating.”
It was hard for Ross not to believe the hype. Having averaged more than 25 points per game in his final high school season at Life Center Academy in Burlington Township, N.J., Ross couldn’t understand how his skill-set wasn’t advanced enough to at least contribute as a role player.
“Last year there were a lot of frustrating nights,” he admitted.
But onlookers weren’t seeing something the coaching staff had missed. Like all players who come to Ohio State, Ross was a dominant entity in high school. That, however, isn’t enough for a clear path to the court.
That was especially true for Ross, who didn’t join the team in a full capacity until December as he cleaned up academic issues before being ruled eligible by the NCAA to play. During that time, Ross was back in his home in Jackson, Miss., while the rest of the Buckeyes were in Columbus at training camp.
“Getting here in December, I came late and when I got here they were on a whole different level with practice and it was kind of hard to play catch-up,” Ross said. “I can’t blame anyone but myself for that.”
Ross’ freshman season ended with him averaging less than four minutes per contest in nine total outings. Thad Matta’s team went to its second Final Four in his tenure, but Ross made no meaningful plays in the team’s deep NCAA Tournament run.
This season could be different. In Ross’ head, it will be.
“I am ready to contribute,” he said. “I’m working so now is my time.”
Now a sophomore, Ross has spent his summer participating at valuable camps – including the Kevin Durant Skill Academy in Chicago and the LeBron James Skill Academy in Las Vegas – and he’s become one of the top players national analysts have chosen to break out.
The legend lives.
“My mind-set for this year now is definitely getting out there on the court and doing what I have to do and show everyone,” Ross said. “Not what they were missing, but what they have been waiting for.”
That will be a more reasonable thing to expect in his second year, particularly because the Buckeyes say goodbye to big man Jared Sullinger and senior guard William Buford. Ohio State is looking for candidates to score – Ross’ specialty.
If Matta has proved anything, though, it’s that players don’t get on the floor without a complete grasp of the game or showing they can be more than just adequate on defense. Ross will agree that he didn’t fit the bill defensively as a freshman.
“That was the biggest thing everybody got on me about,” he said, “and that’s what I have been working on all summer and while I was at these camps – going against all the other good wings there so I am ready.”
Though Ross spent a lot of his freshman season feeling frustrated, assistant coach Jeff Boals said he saw nothing but hard work – and in turn, growth – out of the 6-8, 225-pounder. The confidence that led to frustration should only work to Ross’ advantage as his role on the team expands.
“LaQuinton has always been a confident person,” Boals told BSB. “I think the biggest thing is the comfort and the familiarity with what we’re doing, and it was kind of unfair to him last year coming in December with the timing of everything.
“He continued to work hard and he’s gotten better during the spring and summer. All these guys have made a jump, which is what they’ve needed to do. To his credit, he continues to work. He still has a lot of stuff to work on, but he comes in every day with the right mind-set.”
Now looking back at last year, Ross said multiple times that he takes it as a learning experience. He has no regrets, either, stating that he is more than happy in the ways he contributed to a Big Ten championship and Final Four berth.
Ohio State hasn’t begun practice for the 2012-13 season, so how Matta’s early rotation will play out remains to be seen. Ross, who has practiced at shooting guard and small forward, said he plans on being in the mix.
And he doesn’t mind the hype, either.
“They have been waiting to see me play,” Ross said of the Ohio State fans. “Everybody that has heard about me has heard the stories, and now it is time for me to show them.”
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