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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: The Man In The Middle
By Dave Biddle
(From April 2006 issue)
Call it youthful indiscretion. Or simply call it being loyal to the hometown team.
But Ohio State senior center Terence Dials did not grow up rooting for the Buckeyes. In fact, he was a fan of OSU's archrival.
"I don't want to say it on tape, but Michigan," Dials said. "I was born in Detroit, so I actually grew up liking the Fab Five and everything Michigan. So, it was definitely a different feeling coming to Ohio State. But, I'm a Buckeye now, so hopefully the fans will love that."
Dials moved to the Youngstown, Ohio, area prior to high school and attended Boardman High School. He became a national top-100 prospect as a prep junior when he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game. When it came time to pick a college, he always thought he would land at Michigan if the Wolverines wanted him. But he chose to take a different path.
"Yeah, Michigan recruited me and offered me a scholarship, but they were on probation at the time I was getting recruited," Dials said. "And there was a transition in the coaching staff from (Brian) Ellerbe to (Tommy) Amaker. So, I went with stability, rather than my heart, I guess. And really, at that point, I didn't consider myself a Michigan fan anymore. More or less, that was just childhood. Once you get to high school and start getting recruited, you don't have a favorite team any more."
Dials missed half of his senior season at Boardman with a knee injury and fell off some top-100 lists, but the Buckeyes were happy to land him as Ken Johnson's replacement.
In Dials' first season in college (2001-02) OSU was 3-0 against Michigan. The Buckeyes clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season championship with an 84-75 win at Crisler Arena on March 2, 2002. Dials had 11 points and four rebounds with many of his family watching from the stands.
"Oh, my freshman year when we went up there and played, I was just in awe," Dials said. "Just being able to play on the same floor that the Fab Five did – growing up idolizing them – and getting a win that meant so much on that floor felt good."
The Buckeyes went on to win the 2002 Big Ten Tournament and play in the NCAA Tournament. For the year as a whole, Dials averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. It marked the final successful season for head coach Jim O'Brien at OSU.
Dials played just six games in 2002-03 due to a back injury and was granted a medical redshirt. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in his limited action.
As a sophomore in 2003-04, Dials averaged 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. Ohio State finished 14-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
During the summer of 2004, O'Brien was fired after admitting he gave money to a former recruit, and was replaced by Xavier coach Thad Matta.
Usually a coaching change means rough waters ahead for players that were recruited by the previous regime. But Dials was pleased that Matta was taking over the program.
"I was able to watch a few of his games and see what type of coach he was," Dials said. "And because I was on the (selection) committee, I was able to talk to him and see what he was about and talk to the other players. I was excited because I knew what kind of coach he was and what type of offense he ran. He had been successful, so I knew a successful coach was coming in and was going to turn this program around."
Dials and O'Brien never got a chance to say good-bye to each other, or wish each other good luck.
"No. I haven't talked to him since the day it happened," Dials said. "But I hope all is well with him."
It didn't take Matta long to turn the Buckeyes back into a winner. Ohio State was 20-12 in 2004-05, but was banned from the postseason (self-imposed). Dials had his best season to date, averaging 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media and many thought he was headed for an even bigger senior season.
Going Out With A Bang?
Dials' numbers are a bit down this year, due in part to his consistent foul trouble, and in part to OSU's focus on the three-point shot. By mid-February, the Buckeyes were 18-3, ranked in the top 15, and Dials was averaging 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.
It took Dials a while to get going this year, but he really picked up his play once the Big Ten season arrived.
"I think he's posting up stronger and he's finishing much better than he did earlier in the season," Matta said. "I think one of the big keys is just his post presence on defense. Be it blocking shots, being in position, not making bad fouls. He's gotten better at that.
"I've said it all year: We need Terence to play his best basketball in order for us to play our best basketball. Terence is working hard and I think that consistency is something that we're striving for from him and putting together a solid 35 minutes, as opposed to 25."
Dials is well-liked and respected by his teammates. A rare two-year captain, Dials is not extremely vocal, but he leads by example.
"His leadership is great," sophomore point guard Jamar Butler said. "Terence brings it every day in practice and he really gets us going. He's always going hard and never really has a bad practice."
Senior forward J.J. Sullinger says Dials is an effective player because he knows his limitations.
"Well, Terence never tries to step outside of his box," Sullinger said. "He understands what he can do and what he's good at. And he just concentrates on what he can do. Terence is never going to step out on the top of the key and crossover dribble, or go behind the back, through the legs or anything like that. He knows his game and he understands it."
The one negative you sometimes hear about Dials is that he can be too laid-back. He's an imposing force at 6-9, 260 pounds, but he has a quiet demeanor on and off the court.
"Yeah, but Terence gets fired up in his own way, though," Sullinger said. "I think the more and more you're around him you learn that. I think when I first got here I was kind of saying, ‘Come on man, get more fired up.' But as time has passed, we've definitely understood that Terence does get riled up, but only in his own special way."
Added Matta: "Terence is a great kid. And he understands everything. He's very intuitive regarding what we're trying to get out of him. I know this about Terence: There's nobody that wants to do better than he does, which is a great thing. I think we need him to continue to strive for excellence – which he has – but we need him on the floor finishing around the basket and playing great defense and rebounding the ball."
If the Buckeyes are going to realize their dreams this season, they will need Dials to play well. Matta is looking for a repeat of last year when Dials was nearly unstoppable the final weeks of the season.
"It's huge for us," Matta said. "And that's the good thing: Last year down the stretch, he played some great basketball for us. And make no mistake about it, we need him to play well. And he's capable and he wants to. I like his energy and his enthusiasm."
Dials does not try and downplay his role. He knows that the team needs him to be productive in order to play well.
"You can think of it that way because I'm the only proven big guy that we have," he said. "I'm pretty much the only low post player we have, so I think as I go, the team sort of goes. But at the same time, when I'm not having a good game, our guards have done a great job of picking us up. Sometimes we're hot from the outside, but we can't rely on that all the time. We've got to continue what we've been doing all season, which is inside-out.
"You're supposed to get better as the season goes on. My history at Ohio State shows that I progress each month towards the end of the season. Hopefully it will continue that way because you definitely want to play your best basketball in March. And I think last year I was able to put some good games together at the end. The stakes will be higher this year, so hopefully I will play my best."
Dials is moving his way up the charts at Ohio State. By press time, he was 20th on OSU's career scoring list with 1,375 points, and No. 7 on the career rebounding list with 776. (By the end of the season, he could be as high as 14th in scoring, and sixth in rebounding.)
"I haven't even looked at it right now," Dials said. "It's funny because when we were in Michigan our trainer – Vince O'Brien – told me I needed 22 points to pass Brent Darby (for 20th place), who is actually from Detroit. But, I don't think about it until someone brings it up. Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to reflect on it after the season and see what I've done."
Dials knows that OSU basketball is important for a wide range of people. At an OSU captains brunch in February, there were some emotional speeches from former Buckeyes.
"Well, they're just proud of us," Dials said. "They haven't been able to be proud of a Buckeye team in a while. This program has been in a bit of disarray. They just said, ‘Keep the hard work going.' They're definitely proud of watching us play. There's guys from all types of cities from all around the country – Florida, California – and they all came out. They're all talking about how they like to watch our games and how much they enjoy watching us play hard. I think that's a credit to our guys for working hard and Coach Matta. It was just a great feeling to have them behind us.
"Rick Smith, the guy who runs it – he's a former captain – and he just told me to make sure I come back, because it's very important to the future of the program. Just to see the former captains and what it means to Ohio State and what it means to them, I'm always going to support the program."
Following his OSU career, Dials wants to play professional basketball. Preferably in the NBA, of course.
"However far the Lord takes me," he said. "I think I have a great opportunity to play at the next level, but there's been plenty of great players in college who have not been able to play there, so I'm just going to ride my college season out and hope for the best. After the NCAA Tournament, hopefully, I'll start thinking more about all of that. We definitely have some unfinished business here before I start worrying about any of that."