Cagers Enjoying Sharing The Wealth

It is easy for a head coach to describe his own team as unselfish when he describes them to the media. It is something else when other coaches use the same word to describe a team. In both cases, No. 1 Ohio State is playing an unselfish style of basketball.

In citing a third Big Ten coach, Illinois head man Bruce Weber gave Ohio State's Thad Matta a hefty compliment.

With the Fighting Illini team preparing for a Jan. 22 home contest against the Buckeyes, Weber was asked about OSU's success to that point in the season. Entering the game, the Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in the country, sporting a 19-0 record.

As he tried to describe what it was that had made OSU so successful, he referenced a quote he heard from Michigan head coach John Beilein.

"Coach Beilein in one of the games said their perimeter guys don't care about their shot as much as they care about getting the best shot," Weber said, "and I think that's a key."

In other words, the head coaches for two of OSU's conference foes view them as one of the most unselfish teams in the league. It is a point that Matta has frequently made throughout the course of the season as his team has compiled a 23-0 record.

It is one thing to describe your team as unselfish. It is another to have outside observers do the same. On a team with one fifth-year senior, two fourth-year seniors, a junior and six freshmen, it would be fair to expect to see some growing pains.

The fact that this year's team shares the ball so well and remains the nation's lone unbeaten team indicates that there is a solid bond between Buckeyes. According to Matta, it starts with the upperclassmen.

"So many times you come into a program and the upperclassmen separate themselves and so the underclassmen build their bond and it's ‘us against them,' " the coach said. "I don't think we've ever had that in our time here."

That might be up for debate in other seasons, but not this year. By all accounts, this year's freshman class wasted no time assimilating into the program. Already a close group with four members who played AAU ball together, they were greeted with a message from Matta.

The coach told them that they were surrounded by great leaders. All they had to do was let themselves be led.

"It's just been a lot of fun to be a part of it," freshman Aaron Craft said. "Once you start thinking selfishly that's when bad things start to happen. It goes back to the leadership we have. You never see selfish play or selfish acts from our leaders, so we continue to learn from that."

It might not be a coincidence that the players have been so receptive to Matta's message. When the head coach is out on the road he is not just looking for talented players, he is also looking for personality traits.

It remains a hit-or-miss proposition that has hit more often than it has missed, especially this season.

"We try to (look for personality types), but you just don't know what you're going to get a lot of times until you get through the rigors of practice," Matta said. "Every kid is different. I've tried to figure out recruiting and there's no rhyme or reason as to why some guys are this or some guys are that. It's more challenging than that."

As the fifth-year senior, forward David Lighty has been on both sides of the spectrum for Matta. Once a fresh-faced pup, the Cleveland native said the unselfish attitude Matta preaches begins to grow on a player.

"It's probably just a part of us now," he said of the upperclassmen. "We've been together for three-plus years now. We know what each other likes to do, each other's strengths and weaknesses and where they like to score form, where they like to shoot from, where they want the pass at. It becomes second nature to us."

The Buckeyes enter the weekend with the Big Ten's top scoring offense at 77.7 points per game but have just one player in the top 15 in scoring average: freshman Jared Sullinger at 18.0 points per contest. However, they have three players ranked between Nos. 16 and 25 in scoring: junior William Buford (No. 15, 13.5 ppg), Lighty (22, 12.2) and senior guard Jon Diebler (25, 11.2).

When it comes to scoring on the perimeter, the Buckeyes get it done by committee and it starts with sharing the basketball.

"We're so talented offensively that we know we might have a good shot but coach tells us to pass up a good shot to get a great shot," Diebler said. "That's our mind set on offense. With the scorers that we have, any of us can shoot as many times as we want to if we really wanted to but we feel that we trust the system."

Added Lighty: "If you give up yourself you always come back 10-fold, so don't be selfish."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories