Big 'Z' Waiting In The Wings

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta likes his fair share of 7-footers, but the addition of his latest big man did not draw national headlines. Find out how Zisis Sarikopoulos is adapting to practice life in the Big Ten and what he might add to the picture down the road for the Buckeyes.

In a world where most recruiting news is outdated when it is formally announced, Zisis Sarikopoulos is an exception.

When the 7-0, 265-pound center was announced in July as the latest member of the Ohio State men's basketball team, few Buckeye fans – if any – had heard of the native of Athens, Greece, who had spent the previous season suiting up at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. In limited action there, Sarikopoulos averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds in 20 games for the Blazers.

Entering college as a 17-year-old freshman, Sarikopoulos did not find exactly what he was looking for at UAB and opted to transfer to OSU. Before the season began, head coach Thad Matta was praising the newest addition to his team by describing him as a player who could help this season if he was not required to sit out a year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Now, with more than half a year's worth of time spent in the program, Sarikopoulos said he can feel himself improving.

"So far it's been great for me," he told "I've been trying to develop my skills a lot, like my post moves and my touches around the rim."

Describing himself as a defensive-minded center more in the vein of current Buckeye Dallas Lauderdale than former Buckeyes Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos, Sarikopoulos said he has been working with assistant coach Alan Major and associate strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson to improve in different aspects on the court.

His work with Richardson has helped prepare him for Big Ten play, Sarikopoulos said.

"I think I've developed a lot with my strength," he said. "I've maintained my weight but I've gained a lot of muscle. I've gotten stronger and I feel more physical and better around the rim with my finishes."

His teammates have taken notice of Sarikopoulos' improvements during his short tenure as a Buckeye.

"He's a big guy," Lauderdale said. "He's been working with Coach Rich and he's getting him big as a house. There's not too many players in the Big Ten like ‘Z' that have the European style of game and the passing ability. ‘Z' is a unique player and it's great going against him. You work on new things against him and it gets you ready."

Lauderdale said he is the opposite type of player compared to Koufos, describing Sarikopoulos as strictly an inside guy.

A freshman at OSU last season and now a member of the NBA's Utah Jazz, Koufos had a role in getting Sarikopoulos to become a Buckeye. Both played on the Under-18 Greek national team that took second place in the 2007 Euro Championships, and the two were roommates throughout the tournament.

"He talked to me about going to Ohio State," Sarikopoulos said. "I was looking at schools at the same time. He was real excited about coming here."

Arriving at OSU for his second college experience in as many years was tough, Sarikopoulos said, but he credited his new teammates for helping him make the transition. The opportunity to play against players such as B.J. Mullens, Kyle Madsen and Lauderdale helped sell him on the Buckeyes, he said.

"It's really helped me because B.J., Dallas and Kyle are really physical and really good,' he said. "That was one of the reasons that I picked Ohio State, because I wanted to take full advantage of the year that I would redshirt. By practicing every day against those guys, that will really help me prepare for the next year."

Matta has said that Sarikopoulos is a player who will surprise Buckeye fans next year when they get to see what he can actually contribute. The man himself said he is looking forward to having that opportunity.

"At UAB I didn't get a lot of playing time so people didn't think I would be nearly as good," he said. "I'm not saying I'm a top prospect, but I really worked this summer and it really helped playing on the national team. I got some experience this summer so when I got here I was pumped to play for Ohio State. I was really motivated, so as soon as I got here I tried to show who I am so the coaches could see what I can do.

"I really like to create on offense so other people can execute. I really love defense. I think I'm really going to help on defense because that's what I love to do."

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