With the Basketball season now several days concluded, there are plenty of issues left to kick around. Will the newcomers in 2003 bring OSU back to its perch on top of the Big Ten standings? Could we have done better with a healthy set of bodies in 2002? Who will emerge as the leader of the 2003 edition of the basketball Bucks? Will we be in the hunt for a new assistant coach this summer (for entirely positive reasons)?
Usually, a season like this one would not rank high in anyone's memory banks. Big Ten tournament run notwithstanding, this was one of the few years everyone involved with the program (staff, players, and fans) felt that more could have been accomplished. Still, it would be a shame if lost in all of this shuffling, we forget to pay a tribute to two guys who helped this program accomplish much in their years here. We're talking about Sean Connolly and Brent Darby.
Here is a quick trip down memory lane-starting at the beginning.
As most know, Sean came to us as a transfer from Providence College, after a distinguished career in Peabody, MA cumulated by his being named Massachusetts Player of the Year as a senior. Among some of the highlights of Sean's career:
00'-01' Perhaps Sean's crowning moment as a Buckeye. With national juggernaut Illinois in town, led by conference player of the year Frank Williams, Connolly steps up big in a late game situation. In a back and forth affair, it is Connolly's clutch 3-pointer from the left wing with 30 seconds left that leads OSU to the win. The win denies the Illini an outright Big-Ten title, and solidifies the tournament resume of the Buckeyes-who won 7 straight conference games to finish the season.
01'-02' At Minnesota, Sean goes off on a torrid streak of long range shooting, nailing 5 3-pointers en route to 17 points for the game. Though OSU would go down this day, stopping an impressive streak of 13 straight conference victories, Connolly was virtually unstoppable from the arc.
02'-03' With the Buckeyes reeling after a drubbing at nationally ranked Pittsburgh, Connolly picks up his play against Seton Hall to the tune of 22 points and 7 boards. With fellow senior Brent Darby in heavy foul trouble throughout the game, and the knowledge that Center Terence Dials would not be available (eventually, we would learn, for the entire season), Connolly's effort cemented the win on this day.
02'-03' With its back against the wall against the Big Ten regular season champions, Sean delivers huge with 21 points on 5-7 shooting from long range in a 58-50 upset of Wisconsin. OSU would march on to the championship game against Illinois this year and eventually succumb, but Connolly's efforts throughout the Big Ten Tournament (where he was named to the All-Tournament team) were instrumental in the unexpected run. This capped off a year for Sean which saw him average 11.7 PPG, second on the team to Brent Darby.
To cap it all off, Connolly is the very definition of a student-athlete. He is a perennial All-Big 10 scholar athlete and won the Fred Taylor award for academic excellence in 01'-'02. The next time we see Sean, he'll be receiving his diploma from Ohio State.
It's hard to know where to start with this kid. A role player early in his career, despite a gaudy high school resume at River Rouge High School in Michigan, Darby accelerated his game as a junior and stepped into an even higher level as a senior. Fans cringe at what 02'-03' would have looked like had Brent not been available for us to ride towards several victories. In fact, Brent was an absolute horse.
From the top, here are some of my favorite Darby highlights:
99'-00' Brent shows us a glimpse of the things to come. In a grueling showdown with Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall, Darby comes up huge, hitting four crucial three-pointers from virtually the same spot on the floor (left corner), keeping the tug-of-war going as the Hoosiers focused on Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn. Ohio State escaped with a hard-fought win in no small part due to Darby's clutch (and perfect) shooting from the "coffin corner".
00'-‘01 One of the more memorable individual plays in Darby's career came at the Great Alaska Shootout against Florida St. Although the game was a cakewalk for the Buckeyes, Darby managed to add some mustard to the hot dog by producing a steal at mid-court and then cruising in for a one hand flush, much to the surprise of the Seminoles. Darby finished with 18 points and 5 assists in the signature performance of his early career.
01'-02' Caught by surprise by a hot shooting Winston Blake, the Buckeyes found themselves in a Big Ten dogfight with a very game Northwestern team. Even though the game was at the Schottenstein Center, the Wildcats were in control virtually from the tip. On this day, Darby stood large tallying a then-career high 26 points and making every clutch offensive play down the stretch to ensure victory. Though it was Zach Williams' free throw that ultimately proved the difference in the scorebook, it was Darby that saved the day, and eventually a Big-10 title, for the Buckeyes this day.
01'-02' At the Big Ten Tourney in Indianapolis, Darby teams with Boban Savovic and Brian Brown to dominate all opposition and bring the championship trophy to Columbus. On his way to All-Tournament honors, Darby tallied 47 points in 3 games on 50% from 3-point range, and in a memorable showdown against a highly talented Illinois squad, matched All-American Frank Williams blow for blow.
02'-03' Without the services of starting point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Darby is forced to carry the backcourt and scoring load against a deep and talented Duke squad on "neutral" ground. (Greensboro) On national television, Darby goes off for a career- high 35 points, abusing the more highly touted Chris Duhon on possession after possession. Though the Buckeyes would not take home a win this day, Darby's stubborn refusal to quit and barrage of three pointers pointed towards the legacy he would set. This man does not know how to quit.
02'-03' Struggling through a horrendous shooting performance in a must-win situation against Purdue, Darby makes one of the more memorable plays of a to-date, dismal season. Forced to inbounds under its own basket after a scrum for a loose ball, OSU gets the ball immediately to Darby and watches him gallop coast to coast for a layup over 6-11 Ivan Kartelo. This cements the victory, which Darby naturally caps off with numerous free throws. (52-44 at the Schott)
02'-03' Proving again to have a heart of a champion, Brent carries an undermanned and physically tired OSU squad all the way to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. Against Iowa in the first round, it is Darby that makes a driving layup with 2 seconds left in regulation to claim a 66-64 victory against a determined Hawkeye bunch that had erased a 13 point second half deficit. The following day against top-seeded Wisconsin, Darby tallied 16 points and was a perfect 8-8 at the foul line, staving off all comeback attempts by the Badgers. Following this 58-50 victory, OSU would continue it's improbable run against a Michigan St. squad that had beaten them by double figures twice in the regular season. Though this game will forever be remembered for the free throw Charles Bass banked in, it was Darby who scored all the points down the stretch from the foul line and kept a seemingly inevitable Spartan rally at bay. Darby's 23 points were the difference. And though the OSU express would finally run out of steam against Illinois, Darby again forgot what the word quit meant. Against the Illini, Darby tallied 27 points and 6 assists, and even cut a 22 point lead down to 9 almost single-handedly. Brent repeated as a member of the all-tournament team, and was without question the most valuable player to his team at the tournament.
For his career, Darby finished with 1,368 points, which is good for 20th place on the all-time list, and is ahead of such Buckeye legends as Clark Kellogg, Jim Cleamons, and John Havilcek. He is also the 22nd Buckeye to score more than 500 points in a single season. Brent also finished as the all-time leader in Three-Pointers made for a career with 153 (tied with Scoonie Penn) and his 321 career assists are good for 11th all-time.
Brent was also a 2nd team All-Big Ten selection both his Junior and Senior seasons, and his absurd 253 Free Throw Attempts in 2002-2003 were the second most ever attempted by a Buckeye. More remarkable was that this feat was accomplished as primarily a lead guard, and that Darby managed to combine it with a season assist total of 141-the 8th most ever for a season by a Buckeye.
Brent is on track to graduate with a degree in Sociology, which is nothing new for the student-athlete program at tOSU.
It would be a shame if fans forgot what these two seniors have accomplished in the face of a disappointing season. But we're talking about two warriors here, without whom we would not be discussing 2 Regular Season titles, a Big Ten Tournament championship, or 3 NCAA bids during their careers. Rest assured these accomplishments will not go forgotten, and that one day we will look back at the achievements of these two bricks as a solid part of the house Jim O'Brien built at Ohio State.
We at Bucknuts salute you Sean and Brent, and wish you the best in your respective futures.