With less than a month to go before the start of the 2013-14 season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team met with reporters on Thursday for the team’s annual media day. Coming off of four consecutive Sweet 16 appearances and possessing seven experienced upperclassmen, the Buckeyes carry high expectations into the coming year, and will again play in arguably the nation’s toughest conference in the top-heavy Big Ten.
We’ll have more extensive features on the OSU hoops squad on this site and in the pages of Buckeye Sports Bulletin in the coming weeks. But for now, here are five observations that I took away from my latest trip to The Schott.
Amir Williams Loves Basketball
That’s what the junior center wants you to know. Despite numerous opinions and observations that stated otherwise throughout his up and down sophomore season, the 6-11, 250-pounder insists that he still loves the game, and is unaware of where the notion that he doesn’t came from in the first place.
“A lot of times last season, reporters were talking about how I looked disinterested in the game and how I wasn’t focused and stuff like that,” Williams said. “One of my things this season is to make it a point where I look focused each and every game. Out there giving it my all.”
Regardless of where his head is at, Williams can gain a lot of fans with improved play this season. The Buckeyes are in need of somebody who can provide points in the paint with the departure of Deshaun Thomas, and Williams -- who averaged 3.5 points in 16.5 minutes per game last season -- says that he’s up to the task thanks to an offseason spent working on improving his post skills.
“I had it in my arsenal before, I just wasn’t using it quite as much,” Williams said. “This upcoming season, we need someone to be able to make those shots in the post.”
LaQuinton Ross Is Back, For Now
If Ross’ name is called in next June’s NBA Draft, don’t be surprised. In fact, it almost happened last June.
Following a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, the 6-8, 220-pounder debated entering his name as an early entry in the NBA Draft. Ross ultimately decided to return to Columbus for his junior season, in hopes of improving his draft stock for next year’s selection show.
“I definitely teased with (entering the draft) a little bit after the season last year, because I looked at that draft last year and I was like, ‘OK, I could definitely see myself going in that draft last year,” Ross said. “I sat down with my circle of people and I thought it was best that I come back for another year.”
With Thomas pursuing a professional career overseas, all eyes will be on Ross this season to replace the production that was provided by the Big Ten’s leading scorer in 2013. Ross said that he doesn’t feel an added weight on his shoulders this year, but believes that he is up to the task of replacing Thomas in the Buckeyes' lineup.
“I really don’t listen to it, so if they are really putting all that pressure on me, I really don’t feel it,” Ross said. “I definitely do think that I can fill that void that we might miss from last year with Deshaun.”
He’s Just A Kid From Findlay, Ohio
Whether he’ll admit it or not, Aaron Craft has become one of the faces of college basketball. Thanks to his perennial appearances on the Big Ten All-Defensive teams and last season’s NCAA Tournament game-winner against Iowa State, the Findlay, Ohio native has become a the rare four-year superstar in today’s college basketball world, although the 6-2, 195-pound point guard has managed to avoid the pitfalls that celebrity can bring.
“My roommates, that’s the best part, I can go home and unwind. I can let my guard down and kind of be myself,” Craft said. “I’ve been around and enjoyed my time here. Because we’ve had some success in my time, it just kind of happens. I look at it as a blessing and an opportunity.”
While Craft has avoided social media, his roommates have managed to show a more personal side of the three-year starter with the @CRAFTroomies twitter account. For his part, Craft claims to be a fan of it, but said that he does have some control as to what gets put out for the world to see.
“It’s great,” Craft said. “There’s one rule: they have to run every tweet by me. But other than that, they have fun with it. That’s the thing. My roommates are fun to be around.”
Joining Craft in his boycott of social media is his head coach, Thad Matta. While Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer has joined the twitterverse, his basketball counterpart said that it’s not likely you’ll see him follow suit.
“I don’t think so. I don’t know -- I hate to say this -- I don’t know what it is,” Matta said. “You post things?”
As he often does to get a point across, Matta referred back to a movie quote, imitating Zach Galifinakis in the 2010 film “Due Date.”
“The guy says, ‘I’ve got 93 friends on Facebook. Ten of them are pending,’” Matta said with a laugh. “I don’t need that.”
The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us
So with the experience provided by Craft, potential breakout seasons for Williams and Ross, and a coach in his 10th year at a program that has established itself as one of college basketball’s best, what is the ceiling for this year’s OSU squad? According to junior point guard Shannon Scott, there isn’t one.
“I feel like we can make it all the way this year,” Scott said. “A lot of people are sleeping on us. We don’t have those one-and-done players that everybody keeps talking about. I feel like the fact that we have a team that’s been together for more than one year, that’s going to help us. We have a team chemistry that’s great. I think in the future, that’s going to be good for us.”
Scott’s backcourt mate, Craft, didn’t disagree. The senior has been on three very different Ohio State teams throughout his college career, and feels as though his fourth and final one could have the makings of something special.
“I love how competitive this team is,” Craft said. “We think the best is ahead of us.”