COLUMBUS — Recruiting played an important role in the end of the Thad Matta era at Ohio State, serving as the breaking point between OSU and the winningest coach in program history.
Ohio State, once a power on the recruiting trail, struggled to return to its title-contending heights. The Buckeyes’ highly rated 2015 class flamed out in Columbus, OSU whiffed on many of Ohio’s top talents, and Matta himself — an outstanding recruiter for most of his career — said the program faced "major negativity" in the recruiting world.
"We weren't winning the battles in recruiting that I thought we might have a chance to win, as he did," director of athletics Gene Smith said when the program sacked Matta in June.
Ten months have passed since Ohio State had its introductory news conference with coach Chris Holtmann, and the program’s recruiting efforts have stabilized from a rocky first half of 2017.
Ohio State won 25 games and finished second in the Big Ten in 2017-18, but it must be said Matta recruited everyone in the Buckeyes’ starting five, including Big Ten player of the year Keita Bates-Diop.
Musa Jallow, right, played off the bench as a freshman for Ohio State last season.
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However, much of the team’s depth was a credit to the 11th-hour efforts of Holtmann’s staff. Grad transfer Andrew Dakich was the team’s backup point guard, averaging 19 minutes per game. Reserve guard Musa Jallow reclassified to start college a year early and averaged 14 minutes off the bench.
Forward Kyle Young — an Ohioan who signed with Holtmann’s Butler program over Ohio State — was granted a release and followed Holtmann to Columbus after the coaching switch, and appeared in 25 games. Young and Jallow should see increased minutes next season.
In a crucially important class for Ohio State, the Buckeyes signed two top-100 players (Luther Muhammad and Jaedon LeDee) and two heavily recruited three-star players (Duane Washington and Justin Ahrens). The class, which had no one committed at one point, finished ranked No. 23 in the country by 247Sports.com’s calculations.
The Buckeyes will have an opening at shooting guard, and Muhammad has a decent chance to start as soon as next year for OSU.
We cannot fully judge the class until the players actually reach campus, but with four of its top six in minutes played from last season on the way out, it cannot be understated how critical it was for Ohio State to sign a deep class of 2018.
The Buckeyes already have answered two important questions for the future. Point guard C.J. Jackson will be a senior next season, yet OSU already has his replacement in CJ Walker, a Florida State transfer who chose Ohio State. Walker, who started for the Seminoles, will sit out the next season and is on track to play two for Ohio State.
Further, the Buckeyes have the best player in Ohio already on board for 2019. Alonzo Gaffney, ranked as the nation’s No. 3 power forward and No. 18 player overall, gave the Buckeyes a five-star commitment this week.
With Ohio State still in the market for a graduate transfer, as many as eight of the Buckeyes’ 13 scholarships on next year’s team could be filled by players Holtmann’s staff recruited in the first year.
In less than a year, Ohio State’s roster situation has gone from dire to promising. The OSU administration asked for changes in this area, and for the most part it has gotten exactly what it paid for in Holtmann.
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