Matta Meets With The Media

New head men's basketball coach Thad Matta met with the media today to discuss the latest issues with the team. What's going on with recruiting? What can we expect next year? Those topics and more were on the agenda today.

A month after taking the job as Ohio State's basketball coach, Thad Matta took some time to meet with the media on Friday to discuss a wide range of topics.

First up, Matta was asked his impressions of his new players at OSU and what type of skill level they bring to the table.

"We can't work with them in the offseason, so there's no way to make a projection yet," he said.

Matta has not watched OSU's game films from last year.

"No I have not," he said. "This is only my fourth or fifth day in the office. I don't even have my bags unpacked yet."

Matta, 37, has an open mind when it comes to OSU's current roster. He says he has no preconceived notions about anyone on the team. Somebody might chirp in his ear that Tony Stockman needs to work on defense and shot selection, but the coach doesn't want to hear thoughts from "outsiders."

"Honestly, I haven't asked," Matta said. "I want to go in with my perception, not somebody else's perception of who we are and what we have. I did the same thing at Xavier. I may have watched one or two films after I had been there a while. I know I can't change the past and I know going in with a fresh perspective, a fresh start, is how I want to approach the preseason with these guys."

Matta was quizzed on what OSU can do to increase fan involvement in the Schottenstein Center. Compared to schools like Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, the Schott sounds like a ghost town at times. Most point to the fact that there are not enough students near the floor.

"I don't know," Matta said. "I really don't know. I look in there everyday, but I really don't know how the seating is structured or anything like that right now. I don't know the makeup of the arena. I know it's big. There's a lot of seats in there."

In terms of recruiting, Matta has had a lot of catching up to do over the last month.

"The biggest issue has been getting out, and I don't want to say so much evaluation, it's trying to make connections with recruits," he said. "When you're at an event, you can't call and you can't talk to the kid or coach. There was a three or four day period there, trying to make up ground and trying to get a hold of kids and let them know there's a new coaching staff at Ohio State. Then we went right back on the road.

"So, this week has been more trying to track kids down. A lot of kids take vacation the first week of August. Trying to get a feel for where they are in their recruiting. A lot of the top players have already committed. Recruiting has changed so much with visiting juniors. You can do the home visit at the school in April and we haven't had that luxury and it makes it a little bit more of a challenge when that happens."

As expected, Matta was asked about the possible NCAA violations hanging over the program. Could that affect recruiting?

"You know, it really hasn't," he said. "Obviously, a couple have asked and our answer has been, ‘We don't know what's going to happen.' We don't think it's going to be anything too drastic, but there are no guarantees."

Matta praises the basketball tradition at OSU and sees no reason why he can't build on it.

"When you look at a job like Ohio State, you know, from Coach (Fred) Taylor winning 11 Big Ten championships and a national championship, Coach (Randy) Ayers, Coach (Eldon) Miller, Coach (Gary) Williams… even Coach (Jim) O'Brien winning (two) Big Ten championship(s), obviously you look at that and you say, ‘It can be done here.'"

Matta thinks that the strong reputation of the Big Ten will help his recruiting efforts at OSU.

"Obviously, in these parts that we're recruiting, the Big Ten is the conference," he said. "I know I grew up wanting to play in the Big Ten, but of course I was not good enough. But I think they know the power of this conference. I think they know the power of all the things that go along with playing in this league. I really do."

Although he lamented the fact that most of the top recruits have already committed, Matta is convinced that he can bring in a solid class in 2005.

"I do think that we'll have the ability to get guys that can help us," he said. "That's the goal in recruiting is to bring guys in that will help you compete for a Big Ten championship.

"Recruiting is a roller coaster. Each day, recruiting changes. It's taking the time of finding the ins and outs of who we're recruiting. As well as allowing them the opportunity of getting to know us and Ohio State and getting them on campus so they can see who we are, what the facilities are all about, what the university stands for. That's the big challenge right now: getting those guys to our campus. Recruiting is a lot about relationships and getting a feel for what it's going to be like. Getting to know the players, those types of things."

Fairly, or unfairly, O'Brien was criticized for not developing strong relationships with Ohio high school coaches during his time at OSU. Matta intends on getting to know as many Ohio prep coaches as possible.

"Yeah, I think that's the one thing – wherever I've been – that you want to get accomplished," he said. "You want to have great relationships with coaches in your state. The fortunate thing about us is that the coaches from this state have a lot of loyalty to Ohio State."

Matta's top priority is getting Ohio's best players to stay home. O'Brien went out with a bang last year, landing Mr. Basketball Jamar Butler, and the state's No. 2 ranked player – Matt Terwilliger.

"We want the best players from this state to come to Ohio State," Matta said. "I think with Matt and Jamar, that's a great start. We tried to recruit those guys at Xavier."

Matta was asked if he looks for a particular type of player to recruit.

"If you've seen our teams play, skill level is what's important," he said. "But you have to find kids that fit into your system. I think Gary Williams does the best job of recruiting to his system. Every year, it's a different name, but it's the exact same type of player. So, I think that's something in time we can get to, but right now guys with high skill level is very important to us all across the board. We're not as concerned about recruiting a particular position."

Although he hasn't seen all the game films from last year, Matta thinks OSU has a good group of athletes on its current roster.

"I think one thing about this team is that we have athleticism," he said. "I think we can guard. That will be the foundation that we are going to start on: guarding."

Matta likes using a four-guard offense at times. Don't be surprised to see Terence Dials and a lot of guards on the floor together.

"Yeah, I think that everything will kind of flow into four around one," Matta said.

As for his offensive philosophy, Matta stresses the importance of playing together as a team.

"I think the big challenge as we get started is teaching guys to play off of each other," he said. "Teaching guys to play unselfishly. Understanding the value of extra passes, understanding the value of putting it on the floor to draw extra help and making the pass.

"I think the big challenge we have as we move into this season is getting a feel for our guys and establishing a role for each guy on the team. Saying, ‘We need you to do this very well in order for us to be successful in what we're trying to do.'

"As I look at our family of plays from Xavier, to bring them in here and say, ‘We're going to run these regardless,' I don't know how well that would go over."

The 6-foot-9 Dials, a fourth-year junior, will clearly be the go-to man on Matta's team.

"I think we've got a good base in Terence down low," he said. "From everything I've heard and looking at his stat line, he seems like he's able to produce and that's a great foundation for us."

Dials was named captain by O'Brien following the season. Does that carry over into the Matta regime?

"I think it does," Matta said. "I feel like Terence has great respect on this team. But I also want to make sure that the seniors on this team understand that this is their last shot. I was telling the guys, ‘This isn't Thad Matta's team, this is your team.' Getting the guys to take the ownership and establishing the belief and trust with each other is a big challenge. That is one thing we struggled with last year at Xavier for a while. We had three seniors and it took a while. But I felt that once those guys realized that, we became a better basketball team."

Matta plans on stressing defense to his players and outlined how he will accomplish it.

"I think a lot of it depends on how we will structure our practices," he said. "I'd say the first three weeks of practice, we might do four defensive drills for every one offensive drill. Now, don't get me wrong, we'll coach up the offense too. But I think they get a real feel for, ‘Damn, another defensive drill. This must be pretty important to him.'

"But I also know you have to put points on the board to win. But getting guys to understand the value of easy baskets is important. How do you get easy baskets? You get turnovers and score and that type of thing. But I know everyone will have an understanding that, ‘I better play defense, or I won't play as much as I want to play.'"

Matta is all about basketball. He does not have many hobbies. He does not play golf, at least not very often, or very well. He enjoys running, working out, mowing the lawn (says it relaxes him)… and watching college football.

"I have always been a huge Ohio State football fan," Matta said. "I also rooted for Notre Dame growing up. One of my favorite things to do on Saturdays is to get in my chair and watch all the way from the 11 a.m. game, to the midnight game."

Matta next hit on the difficulties of scheduling.

"Scheduling is one of the toughest things about college basketball," he said. "My philosophy about scheduling here… No. 1, I know the grind of the Big Ten. And what I tried to do at Xavier, for instance, is try to get a game on the road that was going to help us prepare for conference play. A tough opponent in a hostile environment so you can tell your guys, ‘Remember when we were at Alabama? Remember when we were at Mississippi State?' And I think we have that with an LSU this year.

"The next game I like is a neutral site game. We played two years in the Wooden Tradition. Something like the Texas Tech game this year. Something with an NCAA Tournament feel to it in a nice arena to prepare your team."

Matta was specifically asked if he would be on board with scheduling Ohio teams each season. Like a two-for-one with MAC schools.

"Regarding the Ohio teams, I know Coach O'Brien didn't play them, or didn't want to play them, but I think in time, I wouldn't want to say we're going to play all the MAC schools, but we'll see," he said. "I think that's something for when you get yourself established. But I do think, my thoughts on this profession, is that it's a kids game. I know the value of playing in-state schools."

Matta will not miss having a big non-conference rival like he did at Xavier with Cincinnati.

"That game takes five years off your life," he said of the annual Crosstown Shootout.

Matta says he has a versatile coaching staff. Dan Peters, John Groce and Alan Major will all have several responsibilities.

"All of our guys need to be completely involved from everything to player development, to recruiting, to scouting," he said. "That's why it's so important to have the camaraderie that we have as a coaching staff."

As he did at Xavier, Matta will likely close all practices to the media and public.

"I have always closed practices," he said.

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