It’s likely Thad Matta noticed.
Hayes, Jackson and Trice are Ohio natives who elected to go out of state to play their college basketball, decisions that were highlighted as the three marched to the Final Four while Ohio State watched from Columbus.
When fans here backstories of the players in the Final Four and hear of their Buckeye State roots, the common question is, “Why aren’t they at Ohio State?”
Well, a lot of reasons, but probably none that will satisfy a fan base that largely approaches basketball recruiting with a football mindset. On the hardwood Ohio State is not always an obvious choice for the top in-state guys and roster restrictions can often prevent coaches from securing the best in-state talent.
But that won’t stop the questions and Matta and his staff are probably hearing them.
“They’re human, they hear it, they know,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Snow said of the Buckeyes staff. “When you are the head coach at Ohio State you can’t get every talented kid in the state.”
Good point, but the Buckeyes seemed to make in-state kids a point of emphasis in the 2016 class. After a strong April, Ohio State has locked up two recruits in that class in Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward’s four-star center Derek Funderburk and Mentor (Ohio) High School three-star center Micah Potter.
Funderburk is the highest rated 2016 player in the state of Ohio, the No. 49 recruit nationally. While fans have become critical of Matta’s in-state recruiting, it is the second time in the past three years that he has secured the Ohio’s top-ranked player as Jae’Sean Tate held that honor in 2014.
Granted, Matta and his staff missed on the top three Ohio 2015 prospects in Carlton Bragg (Kansas), Luke Kennard (Duke) and Esa Ahmad (West Virginia), but the state’s fourth-best player A.J. Harris will be a Buckeye next season.
While the Buckeyes were in play for Ahmad, Ohio State never had a great shot with Bragg or Kennard. As tough as it might by for faithful fans to swallow, Ohio State is rarely going to get a top kid if Kansas or Duke is pursuing him. It’s the rare exception like Jared Sullinger that proves that rule.
And listen, that’s not a knock on Matta. He is doing what he can at a program that is not blue blood basketball school. Even within those constraints, he is doing better in state than most realize.
Yes, Hayes has performed well, but he was a three-star prospect not ranked in the top 100 recruits nationally. The Buckeyes instead opted to take Marc Loving, the No. 63 recruit. Neither Trice nor Jackson was a top 100 recruit either.
Yes, it’s easy to lament what could have been had the Buckeyes landed those players, but it’s unfair to look at where they are now. Instead view them as they were when they came out of high school. Was anyone clamoring for Hayes to be a Buckeye when he was a senior?
All of this goes away with success. If the Buckeyes were in the Final Four this year no one would care that some players who played high school ball in the Buckeye State weren’t Buckeyes.
Ohio State will have four scholarship Ohio players on their roster next season (Tate, Loving, Harris and Dave Bell) and will add two more next season in Funderburk and Potter. Securing those prospects probably means Ohio State is done recruiting Ohio players Seth Towns and Nick Ward because of roster limitations and team needs. Will Ohio State fans complain if Towns and Ward have success at the next level? Probably. Will it be a fair reflection on Matta’s in-state recruiting efforts? No.