Last season, the Ohio State Buckeyes men's basketball team underachieved
greatly, disappointing fans a great deal on their way to a forgettable 14-16
record. Arguably the two most highly-touted players on the roster are hoping to
live up to their billing.
Figuratively and literally speaking.
Ricardo Billings, the 6-3 210-lb guard from Detroit, Mich. and Ivan Harris,
the 6-8 200-lb forward both came to Ohio State as extremely sought-after
basketball players. But in a season of misery, under different paths, neither
star shined brightly.
Harris was nearly unanimously considered a top 50 player his senior year of
high school at national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
Originally a native of Springfield, Ohio, Harris made the transfer from South
high school to Oak Hill in hopes of landing him more national recognition. The
plan worked to perfection as he landed himself a spot on the famed McDonald's
As the first McDonald's player to choose Ohio State since 1992, Harris led
Oak Hill to a 34-4 record while averaging 16 points a game, 10 rebounds a game,
and over two blocked shots per contest.
Coming out of high school, Harris was considered a top 10 player nationally
by USA Today, Bob Gibbons, and Frank Burlison, amongst many others. The Insiders
Hoops had him nationally ranked at the 10th best forward.
With a lot of high expectations as a freshman last year, Harris only provided
3.4 points a game off the bench. Although shooting 45.8 percent from the field
and 43 percent from 3-point range, he rarely saw action because of his lacking
progress in playing physically down low.
Harris is poised to thrive in the new system being implemented by head coach
Thad Matta, however.
"It definitely will suit me a lot better personally," Harris said
of the new style of play this upcoming season. "Mostly I'm better on the
perimeter, but I'm trying to establish myself to where I can play inside and get
a little stronger so I can be a little more of a threat. I just got to get a
little stronger in the paint and then I'll be all set."
Although Jim O'Brien never really got through to Harris last season, it seems
he got the message in the off-season.
Harris, who last season showed flashes of being the player most everyone
thought he was in high school, worked hard at improving his game and vows not to
leave any doubt this season.
"I worked on my ball-handling a lot," Harris said. "I worked
on ball-handling and a ton of shooting drills from all over. I also got
Back in the summer, former assistant coach Lamonta Stone mentioned that
Harris did often look good in practice, but he was just lacking the toughness
they wanted out of him at the power forward spot.
Harris' potential value to this year's team might have been evidenced by the
last game of the regular season. In that game against Illinois, he had eight
second-half points and five rebounds as Ohio State battled back from 17 points
down nearly winning the game at the end.
The second-half rally featured the Buckeyes spreading the floor with four
perimeter players and Terrance Dials taking over the game down in the low
post-much like Matta hopes to do with this year's team.
Billings, meanwhile, averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds as a senior at Rogers
Academy in Detroit. He was the Insiders Hoops' number 15-rated guard nationally.
He signed with Ohio State in the fall of 2001, however, being a Prop 48
casualty, he was forced to sit out all of the 2002-2003 season.
Being unable to play or even practice the year before, last year he had to
shake off a lot of rust in order to contribute for his sophomore season.
Twice last year, Billings scored in double-figures, both coming early in the
season. However, as the team began to unfold during mid-season, Billings was one
of the many players to draw the iron fist of O'Brien as he found a seat on the
He was never fully able to recover, as his confidence dropped and his shots
missed their mark more times than not.
This summer, Billings was noticeably two steps quicker, and some unexpected
advice from former Buckeyes Scoonie Penn and Brent Darby transformed Billings
into a dangerous weapon.
"All that stuff has really helped a lot," Billings said of their
advice. "I think they did a real good job of helping the players out this
summer. They want to see us do well, and I think it was a cool thing for them to
Rarely was Billings missing an open jumper this summer, and often times he
was impossible for opposition to guard, whether it was in pick-up games or
during the summer league.
It's safe to say he's very confident.
"I've been really confident ever since the season ended, no doubt about
that," he added. "I think that first year was a real learning
experience for me. Now I feel like I'm more of an experienced player."
There wasn't any special secret for Billings to get it right. He said it was
just a matter of working hard and working smartly.
"It was all about playing every day, coming in and working on your
game," Billings explained. "Those types of things that you don't
really notice just kind of take care of themselves when you work hard and play a
lot. Then when you actually work on them, it makes it that much better."
Billings is hoping to make Buckeye fans proud of him, and he believes he will
transform into the type of player everyone is expecting.
He also has some high ambitions to model a few former Buckeyes -- Penn and
Darby -- the very ones that have helped him this summer.
"It gives you a huge sense of pride to see that these guys care,"
Billings said. "They are off doing their own thing playing basketball for
money, and yet they come back and spend time with us helping us out. I want to
be that type of person too. I want to come back and help Ohio State when I'm