Hey all. One of the questions I repeatedly get asked, and never fails to puzzle me, is "How can Ohio State compete with the ‘big names' once they get involved with a player?" This is the case with Detroit, MI star Malik Hairston, and it is puzzling, particularly if one takes into account that:
B) Ohio State does.
But even the most passive of observers can take a look at the recruiting landscape surrounding Hairston and the Buckeyes and see some items that work out very positively in our favor.
The distance factor
Obviously, not every recruit in America has a problem with this. If this were the case, maybe a "state draft" would be a more economic way to attain players than the current recruiting structure. But if distance is an issue to Hairston, anyone that can read a map can see Ohio State makes the most sense. Four hours from Detroit by car, any of Hairston's family or friends can make the trip to Columbus to see as many of his home games as they want, and very affordably. That certainly would beat a late-night west coast telecast, for example.
The Detroit connection
Besides the presence of Detroit-area stalwart LaMonta Stone on the staff, OSU also sports Ricardo Billings on the roster and a commitment towards recruiting the state of Michigan (and specifically Detroit) hard in the future. Witness early interest in Detroit underclassmen Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jalon Perryman, and Jabari Currie, among others. Hairston would not be the first -- nor will he be the last -- Detroit native to grace a Buckeye roster.
The Ohio State attitude towards recruiting the wing in ‘04
One thing is overwhelmingly clear when looking at the recruiting strategies of those attempting to gain Hairston's services: Ohio State is the only school currently on the visit calendar that is not looking at other alternatives. UCLA has Hairston and combo forward Maarty Leunen coming in the same weekend (Leunen also has a scholarship offer, apparently the last left in the ‘04 Bruin class) for official visits. Kansas has at least a half-dozen visitors, including Hairston, on its dockets, and is not locked on to recruiting a wing player. Ohio State on the other hand, is looking at Hairston as their guy, and they mean it. No other unsigned wing players have an offer outstanding. Hopefully, the single-mindedness OSU has shown in making Hairston THE priority at his position will reap rewards.
Muscling up that roster
Look at the talent, people. In the ‘04 class's freshman year, the roster will include the names of Sullinger, Dials, Harris, Stockman, Fuss-Cheatham, Butler, Billings, Sylvester, Terwilliger, etc., etc. Add Hairston's name to that list and anyone can see how the Buckeyes would be in any Final Four conversation--- particularly with someone like Jim O'Brien behind the steering wheel.
Minutes, minutes, and minutes
Despite all of that talent, Hairston can still compete for minutes day one here. There is so much flexibility here (particularly with players that can swing between positions like Stockman, Billings and Butler) that putting the best possible lineup on the floor will be easier. Hairston has the ability to play the 1, 2, or 3, giving him a possible 120 minutes of game action to get a piece of. As O'Brien has shown with Brian Brown, Zach Williams, and Terence Dials, he will not shy from starting a freshman if they earn it.
Ohio State was aware of Hairston's talents long before most of his suitors even knew his name. Though there is nothing wrong with a breakout summer leading to a greater amount of choices, the key to understand here is what kind of commitment this is. This basically means that if Hairston would have broken his foot, say, and not played a minute of summer basketball, OSU would still be right there with offer extended. Would the same go for all of the Johnny-come-latelys? One can only ponder that, but OSU can prove it by citing when they started after Hairston as evidence.
And coming home
In ‘04, Ohio State will visit Lansing. In ‘05, they will visit both Lansing and Ann Arbor. On top of this, look for Ohio State to seek a home and home with another Detroit area squad—something to give the natives on the squad a homecoming of sorts. Anyone notice how Pittsburgh suddenly got a home and home series when Brandon Fuss-Cheatham signed, or how St. John's was given similar consideration when Will Dudley, Brian Brown, and Zach Williams were all on the roster? Expect the same to be done with a Detroit or Michigan area squad.
This is of course not meant as disrespect on the great programs of Kansas and UCLA, who will receive future visits from Hairston. They are brands that are obvious and apparent, and they are coached by two outstanding individuals in Ben Howland and Bill Self. They will also have a lot to offer Hairston. Some mention Michigan State as a potential player, but their overstuffed wing roster (Ager, Hill, Torbert, Anderson, Brown -- all still in Lansing in ‘04) will probably work against them. A talent like Hairston probably relishes the opportunity to play serious game minutes against opponents like this, not to "sit and watch the seniors," so to speak. Michigan could be a darkhorse in the Hairston sweepstakes, but they are not yet done with ex-commitment Joe Crawford and remain a serious player on that front. Michigan's needs are a wing and a big man, meaning that they would not take a combination of Hairston and Crawford. It was Crawford's initial commitment that disassociated the Wolverines from Hairston's "most considered" list to begin with.
So the conclusion is that there is reason for optimism. Ohio State will be putting high-caliber product on the basketball floor the next two years, and they can sell to Hairston the opportunity to be part of something special. It is our understanding through previous published reports that Matt Terwilliger and Jamar Butler—also recruiting priorities, and now verbal commitments at their positions—will also be in attendance during part of Hairston's official visit, including the San Diego State football game.
Ohio State will be putting its best foot forward this weekend. And they have plenty to offer. Count on it.