Anytime a basketball team loses half its roster, one might think chemistry could be an issue.
For the 2015-2016 Ohio State men’s basketball team however, it means just the opposite.
“We all live together, really close to each other. I think we are a little bit closer. Not that last year’s team wasn’t close,” sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop said at Ohio State’s media day. “We are just always around each other, giving each other advice and it’s just a little bit different feel.”
The Buckeyes added five new players to the roster this coming season in freshmen Mickey Mitchell, Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris and JaQuan Lyle, a recruiting class that ranked 11th in the nation by Scout.com.
In addition, the Buckeyes are set to add Virginia Tech transfer center Trevor Thompson to the roster and fellow big man David Bell who redshirted the 2014-2015 season to the mix.
Coach Thad Matta said at media day that he is confident with the new players and how they fit in with the remaining pieces from last season.
“I think for me as a head coach I look at this team and I look at this program and say if everything can stay in check here we’ve got a chance to be really, really, really good as the future unfolds,” Matta said.
If the Buckeyes are going to be successful as Matta believes they can be, replacing the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft might be a good place to start.
With D’Angelo Russell now playing with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Lyle seems to be the leading candidate to replace the Laker and according to Ohio State sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate, he is already fitting in.
“He can score the ball, but also he is a magnificent passer,” Tate said. “He just has one of those gifts where he can see the pass before it happens. The way D’Angelo saw the floor, JaQuan is very similar.”
Lyle, who was rated as the ninth best point guard in the 2015 recruiting class by Scout.com, averaged 17.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game as a senior at Huntington Prep High School in West Virginia. Lyle also spent time at the IMG Academy, famous for training high profile athletes.
Tate said that Lyle is not only fitting in on the court with the Buckeyes, but that he and the freshman guard have bonded off the floor as well.
“Me and JaQuan have gotten close this year. We just kind of attracted to each other. We just kind of bonded and we feed off each other,” Tate said. “Also me and Kam (Williams). When me and JaQuan and Kam work out, we just feed off each other. We make each other better in the workouts.”
Tate, who lives in the same dorm as the rest of the team, continued to say that the continuity outside of the gym is already proving its worth in practice.
“When you know somebody so well, and you know what they are going to do before they even do it that speaks for itself,” Tate said. “On the court, JaQuan knows that I might cut, that is going to benefit the team. We know our strengths and weaknesses that will benefit us on the court as well.”
While the young players seem to be meshing well, the Buckeyes do not have a senior on scholarship this season, leaving junior Marc Loving as the most experienced player on the roster.
Loving said at media day that he is doing everything he can to learn how to become a leader for the Buckeyes as the season looms closer.
“It’s something I want to work on, to be the best leader I can possibly be. (I) mostly lead by actions, that’s just the way I was raised,” Loving said. “My actions reflect on my family, and my team is my family now. I am doing the best I can in practice, and hopefully it carries into games.”
Matta said that just because Loving is the most veteran player on the team, it doesn’t mean the leadership qualities come easy.
“We have to work on it. We have to show them just in terms of the right times, the right approach of how to talk to guys, what to say what not to say, they’ve got to be the first ones in the gym every day. They’ve got to set the tone in that regard,” Matta said. “That’s what this basketball team is going to need because you have a lot of guys who are looking for direction, they’re looking for just guidance in how to do things and those two can do that.”
With the new talent complimenting the returning players on the roster, Williams said he and the rest of the team are itching to put it all together in a game situation.
“I think this year’s team is going to bring a lot of energy. We are a lot more eager to learn, a lot more eager to get better,” Williams said. “We are all excited to see how we mesh on the court when we start playing.”