When Daniel Giddens steps on the court, the intensity is palpable. The Ohio State freshman has a physique beyond his years, swats shots with ferocity and finishes around the basket with two-handed slams at every opportunity.
“You make me sound like the Hulk,” joked Giddens when he was asked about that passion.
No, the freshman isn’t a superhero. He doesn’t transform from human to massive green monster. And he doesn’t have limitless strength.
While Giddens laughed at his list of Hulk-like attributes, the freshman center does have some similarities to the superhero. On the court he’s intense. It’s clear Giddens has only one speed once he steps between the baselines, and he’s the odds-on favorite among Buckeyes to let out a scream of joy at a big play.
That passion has translated to success for the Georgia native. Despite coming off the bench for much of the season he was fourth among Big Ten players and second among conference freshmen in both total blocks (41) and blocks per game (1.8) through Wednesday.
Off the court Giddens is a different person. His Bruce Banner side comes out.
“He’s a very intellectual guy,” head coach Thad Matta said. “I think it’s funny. He’s very inquisitive about a lot of things. When we go to new places, he asks some of the weirdest questions. Just in terms of we were having a discussion the other day of who started the railroad industry, who started the steel industry. He’s very knowledgeable.”
That side of Giddens was well known when he was growing up in Marietta, Ga. As a junior at Wheeler High School, his final year at the public school before he transferred to the elite Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, he was class president, a telling accomplishment for a school that has a total enrollment of over 2,000 students.
He’s let that inquisitive, almost goofy side come out more as the season has gone on. In his first time meeting with the media, Giddens admitted that he was “freaking out” before loosening up slightly. More than two months later he was comfortable mentioning the “Flying Nun” and offering to introduce one media member to his mother, Wendy, who supplied him with that reference.
During that interview session, held Jan. 27, Giddens’ affinity for coffee also came to light. He’d already had four cups before speaking with the media at 2:30 p.m., he said, perhaps not the most necessary habit for someone so predisposed to be energetic.
“He’s one that’s always talking,” Matta said with a laugh. “He’s never going to hide his emotions, and I like that. That’s one of the things that’s attracted me to him in terms of I have a pretty good feel what I’m going to get every time he steps on the floor.”
What he gets is passion, and it’s that quality that led Matta to say that Giddens, even as a true freshman, is capable of being the heart of the young Buckeyes as they struggle through an inconsistent season.
When Ohio State has been at its highest this season – a 74-67 win over what was then a top-five Kentucky team on a neutral court Dec. 19 – Giddens’ energy defined the win. With the Buckeyes clinging to a late lead, the center threw himself to the floor for a loose ball with reckless abandon. He came up with the ball, and the Buckeyes got by far their best win of the season.
When the team was at its lowest, an embarrassing 100-65 road loss to Maryland on Jan. 16, Giddens didn’t shy away from the poor performance by the Buckeyes and himself, offering an apology for the team’s play on his Twitter account.
“I don’t take embarrassment lightly,” Giddens explained later. “When you’re on ESPN and you’re the first game of the day and you’re getting embarrassed, I didn’t like that at all. Basically, I put a public apology out on behalf of this team that said this won’t happen again. I really can’t put that in words.”
Matta has said repeatedly this season that he is looking for his players to take ownership of the team, to fully buy in and embrace Ohio State. It’s clear Giddens has done that.
Keita Bates-Diop was present for Giddens’ raucous Jan. 27 interview session with reporters and confirmed the behavior was nothing he wasn’t used to out of the freshman. He said that when Giddens steps on the court, his energy and passion are contagious.
“It elevates the other four guys out there,” the sophomore said. “If he’s out there showing so much emotion, that looks bad on us if we’re not doing anything to compete with his emotion, his intensity. When we’re out there and we see him screaming or he blocks a shot, it raises our blood pressure and we just want to get going with him.”
The Buckeyes are still trying to get to that level of intensity consistently. It was certainly there against Kentucky and was there for the majority of a narrow road loss against Purdue and the 66-61 defeat the Buckeyes suffered in their rematch with Maryland. But Matta’s team is still working toward making that passion a constant.
That’s no problem for Giddens. Each time he’s taken the court this season he has set aside his inquisitive tendencies and embraced the passion and intensity that liken him to the big green superhero.
“I’m obsessed with winning and I don’t take losing lightly,” Giddens said, explaining his on-court demeanor. “So I will do anything in my power, anything it takes, to get a win. Period.”
Even if it means acting like the Hulk.