Billings' Confidence Soars Over Summer

Ricardo Billings only played sparingly as a first-year sophomore for the OSU men's basketball team last winter. But with a new coach coming in and the improvement Billings has shown this summer, he could be headed for a key role in the upcoming season. Click here for more.

The demanding instructions echoed throughout the gymnasium. Buckeye Corner captain Scoonie Penn simply wanted his team to listen.

During a recent game in the McDonald's Summer League at Worthington Kilbourne High School, the team filled with current and former Buckeye basketball stars needed a spark.

"Come on guys," he screamed. "I expect you fellas to start taking the ball strong to the hoop."

Two trips later, Brent Darby found Ohio State junior-to-be Ricardo Billings wide open in the left corner. With one dribble, Billings burnt an oncoming defender, sliced and diced his way through the lane, and threw down an impressive reverse slam.

"Billings," Penn shouted. "Nice take, that's what I'm talking about."

It was a telling sign of what's to come for Billings, as he, and not current or former Ohio State players Darby, J.J. Sullinger or Velimir Radinovic, was able to grasp the concept.

Most importantly, it continued to signify an emergence of sorts for the 6-3 guard from Detroit. After losing his freshmen campaign to being an academic casualty, Billings is still trying to shake off the rust and find the part of his game that made him one of the finer recruits nationally his senior year at Rogers Academy.

This past season, his sophomore year, he was able to practice and play for the first time. But he definitely didn't play with the type of confidence he would have liked to have.

"I don't want to say I was scared, but I definitely was extremely timid," Billings said. "There were times I felt I was kind of limited as to what I could do because the coaches didn't want us making stupid mistakes. I was sometimes afraid of making a mistake, so I played too conservatively."

Although it's only a summer league, and no one can take too much from any one performance in an open-gym style of play, Penn said the kind of progress being made by Billings is impossible to ignore.

"He's made a huge improvement after sitting last season," Penn explained. "I absolutely love Rick because he's styling. He has a better court awareness this season, and he's taking it to the basket with authority. When Rick learns the game just a little more, he is going to be big time. I mean that, he's going to be an absolute load to try and stop."

The implications of Penn, a guy whose court savvy and incredible feel for the game of basketball, are extraordinary to consider. Penn is perhaps the smartest basketball player to play at Ohio State in quite some time.

So when Scoonie Penn says Billings' got game, perhaps it's wise to listen.

"I think his game is gotten so much better," Penn elaborated. "The most important thing of all is that he does everything he needs to do to be a great player. He's got a great attitude, he hustles, there's nothing he can't do."

One of the few criticisms for Billings' game last season was his sometimes erratic outside shooting. This season during summer league play, he's been usually on-the-money with his outside shot.

Former Buckeye assistant coach Lamonta Stone doesn't believe shooting was ever really going to be an issue.

"I think Ricardo's shooting was somewhat of a misconception," Stone said. "When we needed a big shot, and he was in the game, more times than not he delivered for us. It just comes back to consistency."

If his recent improvements are any indication, consistency won't be an issue. What's more, is that his boost in confidence may be exactly what he needs to succeed given that Thad Matta's coaching philosophy is right up Billings' alley.

Billings is expecting to fit right in.

"From what I've seen of Xavier, it's exactly the game I like to play," he said. "He likes up-tempo and he likes quick guards. I expect to do just fine with him."

Despite a new outlook on his career, improvements on his shot, quickness, and better court awareness, the coaching change has left Billings a little deterred at times from his ultimate objective.

Coach O'Brien's firing was not the first change he's had to undergo since committing to Ohio State two years ago.

"Ever since I got here, I've been dealing with change," he said. "When I committed to Ohio State, I actually had been recruited by Coach Biancardi. He left, so I had to get to know Coach O'Brien a little better. Then this past season, Coach O'Brien had the voice problems and I had to get used to playing for Coach Boyages. Now that Coach O'Brien is gone, I'll have to get used to Coach Matta."

"I'm sure it won't be a problem," he added. "I've talked to the coaches and they told me to stay strong and work hard, and everything will be fine. They really helped me out, and I think things will work out well here with Coach Matta."

Billings' mind-set has been molded from several years of success and great coaching.

While playing for Rogers Academy in high school, Billings won a state championship as well as finishing state runner-up. Surrounding himself with a player like Penn can only help his development.

"I think Ricardo is a kid that is a natural leader," Stone said. "You didn't see it last season because he was trying to find his way. Terence (Dials) is the captain, but I think Ricardo will become the leader."

Playing with Darby, Penn, Sullinger, Radinovic and Ken Johnson for most of this summer league season, it would have been easy for Billings to get lost in the shuffle. But quite often, it was he who wound up scoring 20 points in carrying his team to victory.

Is this the emergence of Ricardo Billings everyone has been awaiting?

"He understands what it takes to win, and he will do what it takes to get it done individually," Stone said. "I won't be surprised if people in Columbus finally see what everyone raved about when he was coming out of high school."

The next time you hear instructions being barked out to the surrounding teammates, take a good look. It might just be Billings doing the shouting next time around.

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