Before its biggest test to date in its quest for a national championship, the Ohio State football team will seek inspiration from a current world champion who hails from the Buckeye State.
An Ohio State spokesperson confirmed to BuckeyeSports.com that four-time NBA MVP LeBron James will be on the third-ranked Buckeyes’ sideline on Saturday for the team’s primetime matchup with No. 23 Wisconsin. Current plans also call for the two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP to deliver a pre-game speech to the Ohio State squad.
A product of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, James is a longtime fan of the Buckeyes, and even has his own commemorative locker in the Ohio State basketball locker room. But while it’s the Buckeyes basketball team who wears James’ Nike line of shoes and gear, the Miami Heat star also has ties to current OSU head coach Urban Meyer.
An All-State wide receiver during his high school playing days for the Irish, James was recruited to play football by Meyer, who served as Notre Dame’s wide receivers coach from 1996-2000. At Big Ten media days in 2012, Meyer spoke of his failed attempt to lure the future No. 1 overall NBA draft pick to South Bend.
"'Thank you very much, I'll consider it,' and his coach started laughing," said Meyer, recalling James' response to his scholarship offer. "I didn't know what he was laughing at, so we went down and sat in a room and he said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said, 'No' and he said, 'LeBron James' and I said, 'Who's LeBron James?' and he said, 'He'll be the next Michael Jordan' and I go, 'Come on.'"
Now, arguably the biggest star in sports, James has seen unprecedented scrutiny in past years, something which Meyer doesn’t understand. While it remains to be seen what James’ message to the Buckeyes will be, the Ohio State head coach praised the former Cleveland Cavalier for his focus on the court, and character off of it.
“Give me all kinds of LeBrons,” Meyer said. “You just see the way he articulates, his look, the way he treats people, the focus. We use him in those leadership meetings we use, those videos, his face is plastered all over them. First of all, our guys all admire him. And the head coach really admires him.”
At a recent tour of the renovated basketball facilities inside of Value City Arena, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith also expressed support for James, who fell out of favor with many fans in Ohio for the way that he left the Cavaliers via free agency in 2010.
“I feel sorry that our fans won’t rally around LeBron because of the way he did his things, because for us, he’s been unbelievable. When his apparel came out, we were the first school he contacted,” Smith said. “He’s always kept us at the top of his thoughts when he’s doing things. That’s been really helpful."
While James has drawn a mixed reaction from Ohio State crowds in his Columbus appearances since he took his talents to South Beach, expect him to be a positive presence on the OSU sideline. The Buckeyes are expected to have more than 50 recruits in attendance for their Big Ten opener, many of whom will likely be starstruck by the nine-time All-Star.
And like Meyer said on his call-in show on Thursday, recruiting's the name of the game.
The Buckeyes and Badgers will kick off at 8 p.m. on Saturday in a nationally televised game on ABC.