In command of the court, Russell showed signs of Mike Conley, the point guard who helped Ohio State to the national championship game as a freshman in 2007 and was selected fourth overall in the NBA draft later that year.
In versatility, he’s similar to Evan Turner, Matta said, the national player of the year during the 2009-10 season and a No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Now he compares favorably with Dennis Hopson, Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer.
Hopson was the first Buckeye to ever record a triple-double, a feat he accomplished in a 1986 game against Ohio State University (it should be noted that assists were not kept as an official statistic by the NCAA until the 1950-51 season).
Sunday against Rutgers, Russell recorded his first triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It was the fourth time that a Buckeye has done it and Russell is just the third player to do it in program history, joining Hopson and Turner.
“It’s a great feeling,” Russell said after the game. “Just to be in the same category as those guys is a blessing. I feel like I’ve been flirting with it all year and I finally got the chance to do it and we got the win, so that was more important than anything.”
He’s the first freshman to do it in program history and first to do it against a conference opponent. Russell has seven more regular season games this year to match Turner, who had two triple doubles during his junior season. He is the only freshman in the country to accomplish the feat this season and one of 10 players nationally to record a triple-double.
Russell’s triple-double is the second most prolific in Ohio State history. He had 45 combined points, assists and rebounds, more than the aggregate of either of Turner’s triple-doubles, and barely behind the 48 that Hopson totaled (27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists).
“I think from the first time I saw him play I knew he had a chance to be a heck of a basketball player,” Matta said. “I think from the standpoint of his attention to detail, his preparation. It’s as good as I’ve seen, not only from a freshman but from any player I’ve coached.”
The triple-double was just another milestone in a transcendent freshman season for Russell.
He has averaged 19.5 points per game this season, placing him 20th nationally and first among freshmen. If his scoring average holds, Russell will finish second all-time in points per game by a freshman at Ohio State, trailing only Michael Redd (21.9 in 1998). Russell’s 469 total points this season is already sixth all-time by a freshman. At his current pace Russell needs to play in three postseason games to set a new total points mark for freshmen at Ohio State.
Russell is third all-time in assists for a freshman with 130 this season and will likely pass Aaron Craft (177) for second all-time when his freshman year is over, though Conley’s record 268 assists is likely out of reach for Russell.
“I think it’s scary for my opponents because I feel like I get better every game and every practice I learn something that I didn’t know going into that practice or that game,” he said. “It’s scary because I feel it, like I get better every game. It’s just something new that I’m doing or something that I didn’t expect to happen happened.”
Regardless of where he ends up in the Ohio State record books, thanks to his triple-double Russell has already done something that no other Buckeye freshman has done, placing himself in the good company alongside Turner, Conley and Hopson.