Matta's Mantra: Keep it Real

Thad Matta hasn't changed - from his attire to the ancient grill he's had for more than a decade. That's one of the main reasons why the Ohio State boss had so much success on the recruiting front this year.

Thad Matta's players mock him when he strolls into the gym and call him "Ken Reeves," after the old "White Shadow" TV show. It's because he's wearing the same cotton sweats he sported back in the days when he was an assistant under Herb Sendek at Miami of Ohio. His wife chides him about getting rid of the ancient charcoal Weber grill he's had for more than a decade.

Matta doesn't like change — and that's one of the reasons he's enjoying so much success during his short time at Ohio State.

"He has a genuine gift with people," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said of his former boss. "He's very likable and puts people at ease. Parents, coaches and young kids all seem to gravitate to him. He appears to be what he is — a regular guy.

"In this day and age with college basketball, when coaches are bigger than the program, Thad takes the opposite approach. He's just a very even-keel and mild-mannered guy."

"He's an old-fashioned guy, and success hasn't spoiled him," St. Andrew's High School (R.I.) coach Mike Hart added. "His work ethic and values haven't changed at all."

Matta put up 20 wins in his first season in Columbus and ended the regular season with a shocking one-point victory against previously unbeaten Illinois.

Five of his top six starters are back, but that isn't what has Buckeyes fans so excited.

Matta has Ohio State in a photo finish with North Carolina in a battle for the top recruiting class in the country. Right now, the Buckeyes are a close second to the Tar Heels, but considering the history of both programs, it's remarkable that Matta is within putting distance when it comes to being able to lure recruits.

First, Matta landed small forward David Lighty, a two-sport star from Ohio who missed the entire spring and summer with a torn ACL. Then it was Daequan Cook,'s second-ranked shooting guard in the nation behind UNC-bound Wayne Ellington. High school and summer teammates Mike Conley, a consummate point guard, and the nation's biggest prize, 7-footer Greg Oden, followed shortly thereafter.

All are consensus top 50 recruits, and all could be McDonald's All-Americans.

"I don't think I got these kids," Matta said. "I think it's Ohio State and the power and the magnitude of the university. We have incredible facilities and (an incredible) fan base.

"These guys were our targets from the day I got this job. A lot of it was about timing and location."

There's no question. Conley and Oden never would have played for Matta if he'd still have been at Xavier, where he won 26 games in each of his three seasons. They wouldn't have given Matta the time of day had he been back at Butler, where he was 24-8 in his first coaching job back in 2000.

"This is not about me, it's about the kids," Matta said. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I just try and keep it as real as possible and get these kids a good education and make them the best players they can be."

Kids are drawn to Matta and his staff. Even the youngsters.

Matta already has early commitments from two of the Midwest's elite players in the Class of 2008 — guard Walter Offutt and big man B.J. Mullens.

"I just think he cares about more than just basketball," said the 16-year-old Offutt, who gave his pledge to Matta last month. "I think he'll be there for me, and he'll also help me develop and hopefully get to the next level."

"People keep telling me I'm too young, but I don't worry about it," Offutt added. "I know Thad Matta and Ohio State are right for me."

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