Ohio State basketball fans will want to remember the day June 29, 2005.
That is the day a dynasty, quite possibly, took shape for coach Thad Matta.
That dynasty could be built on the back of what may be the best recruiting class in the history of the storied Ohio State men’s basketball program. On Wednesday, two more pieces of this recruiting class puzzle fell into place as Indianapolis Lawrence North teammates Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. announced their intention to play basketball at Ohio State.
Oden and Conley picked OSU over Wake Forest. Michigan State and North Carolina had also been in the running for Oden.
The 7-0, 245-pound Oden is the reigning USA Today and Gatorade national player of the year. He is also the No. 1-ranked senior-to be, according to Scout.com. He would have to be considered – perhaps in line with Middletown, Ohio, standout Jerry Lucas in 1958 – as the biggest recruit in program history – both literally and figuratively.
His decision was hastened by the announcement last week that he would not be eligible for the 2006 NBA draft. The league and its players union had agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that will prohibit players from entering the league until one year after their high school class graduates.
The 6-1 Conley is also an impact player as a point guard, ranking as the nation’s fourth-best point guard and No. 26 prospect overall by Scout.com.
This dynamic duo convened a press conference at their school to make their announcement, although some of the suspense had been lost when The Indianapolis Star reported last Friday that Oden intended to play at OSU. Subsequently, a number of sources close to the players were unanimous in saying they understood the players would verbal to OSU. Some other prospects said the pair had already begun recruiting players to play with them.
"We have decided for the best place to accomplish our future goals was at The Ohio State University," Oden announced at the beginning of the conference.
Matta's presence and the rest of the OSU staff played a big part in the decision, as Oden stated that he had a good idea he wanted to go to OSU in April after the staff came to school for a visit.
"I kind of knew after they came into the school, but (Mike Conley, Sr.) told me to calm down and give every school a chance," Oden said.
Conley added that Matta's ability to relate to the players helped him feel comfortable with the coach.
"When I'm around him, I feel like I'm talking to one of my friends," Conley said.
Oden commented on the fact that Ohio State is a school that is fairly close to home.
"It's far enough for my mom not to come there every day, but she can come when she needs to," Oden quipped.
Conley seemed relieved to have his decision over with, but Oden said he never felt too much hassle over the constant questions about where he was going to college.
"Just a little bit of pressure," Oden said. "All it is, is a two-minute question in an interview, so it's not that bad."
The players were asked about possible sanctions that might be coming Ohio State's way as a result of NCAA violations committed under the tenure of ex-head coach Jim O'Brien. Conley's father, Mike, weighed in with a vote of confidence for the new staff from the parents and said that barring unforeseen circumstances, the players are set to sign with Ohio State.
"We feel very, very comfortable with the new AD, the new coaching staff," he said.
Oden was asked about how long he would stay in college before declaring for the NBA draft. He replied by saying that academics come first and did not give a timetable for when the NBA decision might come.
"From a basketball standpoint, however long it takes to feel that I'm developed enough to be an NBA-type player," he said.
Oden and Conley were pursued by home state favorite Indiana University, but the two decided to play elsewhere. Oden didn't seem too worried with his choice to play elsewhere in the Big Ten, with one exception.
"The only thing that worries me is, we play at Bloomington next year -- Bloomington South -- so that might be a little rough," he said.
Oden and Conley become the third and fourth members of OSU’s 2006 recruiting class. They join two other national top-30 players in Dayton Dunbar guard Daequan Cook (ranked eighth nationally) and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph wing David Lighty (ranked 21st). Cook is a teammate of Oden and Conley on the Spiece Indy Heat AAU team.
Cook's commitment had a definite influence on the final decision.
"It was an influence because before then, Ohio State wasn't at the top of my list but when he committed, I took a deeper look and found out that maybe this is the place for me," Conley said.
Conley feels the quality of the recruiting class could mean big things to come.
"I hope that the other recruits that Ohio State is getting is as good as people say and we turn out to be as good (as people say)," Conley said. "With Thad Matta coaching, I feel we can get as far as the national championship."
Oden added that playing with his friend Conley will be a big part of his growth as a player.
"It's important for me because he makes me better," Oden said. "I just know that being with Mike will help me develop to the player I want to be."
The verbal commitments made today are non-binding. These players are expected to sign letters-of-intent for OSU in November and would enroll at OSU in the fall of 2006.
And the prospect of signing four national top-30 players is almost unprecedented. Only one class in recent memory has had as many as four players so highly rated: Duke’s 2002 class had four top-20 players in Shelden Williams (No. 5), Shavlik Randolph (9), J.J. Redick (14) and Michael Thompson (17) to go with Sean Dockery (30).
Duke’s 1997 class of William Avery, Shane Battier, Elton Brand and Chris Burgess was known as the Fab Four, although they did not have four top-30 players.
The nickname, of course, comes from Michigan’s Fab Five. That group had three top-five players in Chris Webber (No. 1), Juwan Howard (3) and Jalen Rose (4) to go with top-75 talents Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
Oden and Conley helped Lawrence North win a second consecutive Class 4A state championship this past March.
As a junior, Oden averaged 20.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. He earned USA Today, Gatorade and Parade magazine national player of the year honors. As a sophomore, Oden averaged 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Conley averaged 10.9 points and 5.1 assists per game as a junior.
As sophomores, the duo helped Lawrence North go 29-2. Oden had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Conley had nine points and five assists in the team’s 50-29 state championship game win over Columbia City.
This past season, they led Lawrence North to a 24-2 mark and a No. 6 national ranking in USA Today. In the team’s 63-52 state title game win over Muncie Central, Oden hit 14 of 19 shots from the floor and finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. Conley had seven points and four assists in the title game.
Oden blocked 18 shots in Lawrence North’s 60-45 sectional semifinal win over previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Arlington.
In earning the Gatorade award, Oden joins LeBron James as only the second junior to win that honor.
Oden and Conley have been busy this spring and summer, competing with the Spiece Indy Heat in AAU events, attending the USA Basketball Festival in San Diego, participating in an all-star exhibition series against Indiana’s top graduating seniors and attending team camp with Lawrence North at Purdue. They also plan to attend the Reebok ABCD Camp July 5-9 in Teaneck, N.J.
The USA Basketball Festival, held in mid-June, serves as a feeder program for USA Basketball as it prepares players for future competition in the World Championships and Olympics. Oden helped lead his team to the tournament championship, besting a field of two other U.S. teams and four squads from abroad.
In five games there, he averaged 17.0 points (fourth overall), 7.6 rebounds (fifth), 2.8 blocks (second) and shot 74.4 percent from the floor (first). He also averaged 26 minutes a game. Conley averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 assists (fifth) per game.
The players returned home and participated in a three-game exhibition series against Indiana’s graduating senior all-star team. In that series, Oden averaged 20.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game. Oden had 29 points and eight rebounds in a thrilling 119-112 triple overtime loss on June 21.
Conley averaged 15 points and five assists in that series, including a 24-point, 10-assist, zero-turnover showing in the juniors’ 109-96 upset win on June 23.
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