Last year, Ohio State basketball had a culture problem.
That much was implicit from the four freshmen that transferred after one year, or in the case of Austin Grandstaff less, in the program. It was made explicit when head coach Thad Matta made some comments at a celebrity golf outing in July, saying in a video posted by This Week Community News that he’s “going back to running this program the way we did when we got here.”
In order for that to work, Matta is going to need his returning players – which include the top six contributors from a year ago – to buy in to any changes. He’s also going to need the new wave of talent entering the program to prove they want to be at Ohio State for the right reasons.
In that regard, he’s confident he has the right players.
“I love these four guys we have in here. I’ve been very, very, I don’t want to say surprised because we know what kind of guys we have here, but very pleased with the progress they’re making both on the court and off the court,” Matta said. “I think you’ve got a group of guys that are definitely here for the right reason and have an understanding and appreciation – with that said I’ve got great confidence that those guys are going to be contributors this year.”
Joining the Buckeyes this season will be freshmen Micah Potter, Derek Funderburk and Andre Wesson as well as JUCO transfer C.J. Jackson, who carries sophomore eligibility.
Lending credence to the fact that those players are at Ohio State is the fact that the three high school talents come with strong Ohio ties. Wesson played high school ball at Westerville South, just miles from the Buckeyes’ campus. While Funderburk and Potter played their senior seasons in Virginia and Florida, respectively, Potter is originally from Mentor, Ohio, and Funderburk played high school in Lakewood, Ohio, before moving to the elite Montverde Academy.
Jackson, meanwhile, showed his commitment to Ohio State by selecting it as his transfer destination. The guard is expected to be a sharpshooter and secondary ball handler for the Buckeyes this season. Matta said he has shown a commitment to preparing his body for the more physical Big Ten season.
“Trying to get him and not only him but all the guys to understand the physical-ness that’s going to hit them next year and continuing to be physically and mentally strong,” Matta said. “C.J. is a very quiet kid and we’ve gotten him to sort of open up and be more vocal. He has a knack for where the ball is and making the right decisions.”
Like Jackson, Funderburk is another player who needs to add weight to hold up throughout his first college season. Athletically, however, he appears ready to contribute right away.
“I think Derek definitely gives us the ability to play a little bit bigger,” Matta said. “Through testing this summer, his athleticism was off the charts. I’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought to the table.”
With the top six players from last year’s team returning, it’s unclear exactly how the new players will integrate into on-court roles for the Buckeyes. Off the court, however, it’s very clear what Matta is looking for.
“I want to get a group of guys in here that are committed to everything this program as built upon beforehand,” he said. “The previous players have built this thing and it’s the new guys that have to uphold the standard that they set.”