Ohio State Basketball: An In-State Emphasis

Following a slew of transfers Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is focusing on finding players who truly value being a Buckeye.

Ohio State's basketball season came to a close just over a month ago. Given everything that has happened to the program since the season-ending loss to Florida in the NIT, it feels like a lot longer.

In the immediate aftermath of the Buckeyes season three freshmen transferred out of the program, making it four for the year. Since the decisions of A.J. Harris, Daniel Giddens and Mickey Mitchell to leave became official March 29, there has been a constant theme around the  Buckeyes program.

When Andre Wesson, a 2016 small forward who was a high school star just north of Ohio State's campus at Westerville South, officially signed on to be a Buckeye on April 15 head coach Thad Matta said had a telling comment in his press release.

"One of the things I like most about him is his desire to play for the Buckeyes," Matta said.

Yesterday when Chris Jent was officially announced as Jeff Boals replacement as Matta's assistant coach, the head coach praised Jent -- who previously coached alongside Matta and played his college ball at the Buckeyes -- for similar reasons.

“I love the fact that his appreciation for his university is second to none," Matta said of Jent. "This place being successful means a great deal to him. You go to school here, you play here, you meet your wife here, all those things go in.”

The theme is clear. After the Buckeyes saw four players who weren't fully committed to Ohio State walk out the door, Matta is making sure everyone who comes to Columbus is fully dedicated to being there. Now that effort is focused on recruiting.

Including Wesson, three members of the 2016 recruiting class are from Ohio and Matta said that a focus on in-state recruiting will continue, though getting things done in the Buckeye state isn't always easy.

“Well I think that without a doubt we would love to do that," Matta said of emphasizing Ohio and the Midwest in recruiting. "I think that a lot of times there is a lot more that goes into it than a real good basketball player in terms of kids in the Midwest. I think sometimes people forget the academic standards that we have at this university are probably as high if not higher than anybody in the Big Ten and I like that about it."

While fans will point to in-state misses like Trey Burke and Nigel Hayes, Matta has had success with in-state recruiting, especially early in his tenure.

Matta's first full recruiting class featured Ohio natives David Lighty and Daquan Cook and the head coach took at least two in-state players in the 2007, 2008 and 2010 classes -- groups that included Jon Diebler, William Buford, Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft. Matta had no open scholarships in the 2009 class.

The Buckeyes did not sign an Ohio native in the 2011 class, the much-maligned group that included Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, or in 2012 when only Amedeo Della Valle joined the program.

Since then Matt has added Marc Loving (2013), Jae'Sean Tate and Dave Bell (2014) and Harris. In addition to the three Ohio natives joining the team next season Matta has one committed in 2017 (Kaleb Wesson) and one in 2018 (Dane Goodwin) while he is pursuing in state recruits in 2017 power forward Kyle Young and 2018 point guard Dwayne Cohill.

Matta has always recruited Ohio, but given the recent transfers it appears the program has a renewed emphasis on finding players who really want to be a part of Ohio State.

"I think that’s something that if you can find that, those are the guys that are the most successful," Matta said. "Evan Turner, I remember calling him saying, ‘Hey look, either you’re going to commit or the kid going to Florida, he’s going to commit. I’m taking the first one.’ He says, ‘Coach, I can’t pass up coming to Ohio State, I’ll take the scholarship.’ He had never even taken an official visit and I think the rest is kind of history. Those guys that have a plan at a young age in terms of what they’re going to do and the willing to do the work is probably the most important thing. We say this: I want guys that are walking around with their hands clenched, not with their hands out expecting something. You have to go get the opportunity.”

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