Focus On The Future -- The Centers

You may not have noticed with all the football talk going around, but basketball season is right around the corner. Today, Kyle Lamb starts a five-part series in which he will take a look at the future recruiting possibilities of the Ohio State men's basketball team. The first installment deals with the centers, including possibly the nation's No. 1 overall prospect regardless of class, Greg Oden of Indianapolis Lawrence North.

With the 2005 recruiting class nearly in the books completely, Thad Matta has turned his attention to the classes of 2006 and 2007 to shape the future of Ohio State basketball. Following his lead, Bucknuts also delves deep into these talented classes to bring you the "Focus on the Future, Class of 2006 & 2007".

In the first of a five-part series, we will take a look at some of the center prospects in these classes that Ohio State will be making a run for. Naturally, more names will pop up at any time in the process, but this list will serve as an early guide for who Buckeye fans should keep an eye on this upcoming season.

With 6-9 Terrance Dials having just two seasons of eligibility remaining, the class of 2006 will be an important one for the Buckeyes at center.

Dials' graduation next season will leave Ohio State with just 6-10 Matt Terwilliger and 6-8 ½ Brayden Bell as post options for the 2006-2007 season. Although either player may fit well into Matta's offensive philosophy, many Buckeye fans might desire a true massive low-post possibility.

One of the top recruiting priorities for 2006 might just satisfy those cravings.

Indianapolis 7-0 sensation, Greg Oden, is nearly unanimously considered the top player in the entire country in 2006. Even more unanimously, he's the top center and someone any college program in the nation would love to have.

The 240-pound man-child has been considered a near lock to enter the 2006 NBA draft immediately after his high school eligibility expires. However, recent scuttlebutt from Oden that he intends to attend college has sent a few college programs rushing to get involved -- including Ohio State.

Playing for the talented Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Matta and his assistants (two of the three having Indiana roots) have used their regional ties to their advantage in hopes of getting a foot in the door.

They made an excellent start at doing just that back in September getting Oden, his high school and AAU teammate (6-1 junior point guard) Mike Conley, and 6-5 Dayton Dunbar's Daequan Cook all to visit Ohio State unofficially.

The visit was notable, especially since many top programs nationally tried to get Oden and Conley to visit their campus, but the pair chose Ohio State instead.

Averaging 15.3 points a game as a sophomore, despite numerous double and triple teams as well as having many other scoring options on his team, Oden has the body of a 30-year old, not the 16-year old that he is.

However, the fuss about Oden does not have to do anything with his offensive game. Oh sure, the 26-point 12-rebound type performance is something he's capable of, as evidenced by those very same numbers he put up on ONE game during the Nike All-American camp this summer. But it's Oden's defensive presence that makes scouts drool.

Oden is considered the top defensive center in quite some time. Very often, he goes on spurts where he blocks several shots in a single possession. Oden averaged over 6 blocks per game last season as a sophomore in high school and is a triple-double waiting to happen.

Most people believe a talent of this magnitude is a lock to bypass college, but Oden is adamant that's not the case. Oden has been extremely outspoken up until this point saying he will go to college, and those close to him say privately his mother is very protective and insists that he does.

Of course, there is plenty of time between now and then, and things could very well change. But for now, Oden remains persistent.

"I don't feel I have an offensive game, and if I go to college I can develop that," Oden recently told College Hoops Net. "Without an offensive game, you're really nothing in the NBA."

Ohio State and Wake Forest are currently the leaders for Oden, whose mother ideally wants to see him close to home. Indiana and Michigan State are also in the mix early on.

Oden is expected to visit Ohio State sometime this season once again to watch a basketball game with Conley and Cook.

Although he's no Greg Oden, Tom Herzog, a 6-11 center from Powers Catholic in Flint, Mich. has a similar type of game.

Herzog (left) is also considered a defensive stopper whose long arms and great wingspan makes life miserable for opposing players. Although 30 pounds lighter and not nearly the physical specimen that Oden is, Herzog is the sixth-ranked center nationally by the Insiders Hoops and is also quite a rebounder.

Recently, Herzog's high school coach compared him to NBA first round draft pick, and 7-0 center Chris Kaman of Central Michigan. Last season as a sophomore, Herzog averaged 13.5 points a game and over 15 rebounds a game. Additionally, he emerged as a big time shot blocker.

Ohio State has already offered Herzog, although currently Michigan is considered the early favorite. Michigan State, unlike the Wolverines, has not yet offered a scholarship, but will also be tough to beat down the stretch. Illinois, Purdue, Notre Dame, Marquette, Indiana, and Vanderbilt are just some of many other schools to get involved.

Come the end of October, a second Indiana prep center will be making an unofficial visit to Columbus. Luke Harangody, a 6-8 center from Shereville, In. just got back this past weekend from a visit to Notre Dame, and on October 30th he will visit the Buckeyes.

As a sophomore, Harangody was averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds a game until he had to sit the final 12 games of his season with a stress fracture in his back.

Harangody (left) has already been offered by Notre Dame, Illinois, and Purdue with other teams such as Ohio State and Indiana taking a lot of notice.

The Andrean High School product is a very strong, albeit undersized post player who is versatile enough and has the ball handling skills necessary to also play power forward.

Matta began recruiting Harangody strongly when he was at Xavier and has recently stepped up his interest after Harangody had a relatively strong spring. Harangody's father, Dave, played football for Indiana back in the late 1970's.

Harangody is ranked 10th nationally by the Insiders Hoops as a center. He is widely regarded as a top 50 or top 75 talent.

Rounding out the center prospects for the class of 2006 are a pair of Ohio juniors in 6-9 Brant Leitnaker of Lancaster, and 6-9 Kurt Huelsman of St. Henry.

Leitnaker is an athletic player who can defend extremely well and also moves well without the ball. Relatively unknown outside of Ohio circles, Leitnaker performed well this past spring playing on the D-I Greyhounds, which is notorious for being the AAU team of O.J. Mayo.

Early on, Leitnaker is drawing mostly MAC interest. Huelsman, much like Leitnaker, still have some improving to do, but isn't without talent.

Huelsman is somewhat skinny and probably would not be an immediate impact at the college level. However, like many of Matta's preferred recruits, he is pretty athletic and very mobile.

A few weeks ago, Huelsman visited Michigan unofficially.

The class of 2007 all begins with one of the top players nationally, and Ohio State appears to be one of the early leaders involved with that player.

Aliquippa, Pa. center/power forward Herb Pope, a 6-8 215-lb sophomore, is a five-star player considered to be a top 25 national recruit in his class.

Ohio State and Duke are Pope's early leaders, as reportedly Pope grew up a Buckeye fan and has a few relatives in the Columbus area.

Last season as a top-rated freshman, Pope averaged 3.8 points a game for national powerhouse Montrose Christian, playing behind now-senior center Uche Echefu, also one of the top centers in the country in his class.

Pope decided to transfer this season from Montrose to Hopewell in Aliquippa. His head coach last season, Stu Vetter, told the Washington Post he was very happy with what he was seeing out of Pope -- before he transferred out.

"He really has looked great," Vetter said in July. "He has shown a lot of energy and excitement, and I think he's really developing nicely."

Cincinnati, North Carolina, Purdue, Pittsburgh, and Xavier are just a few of the programs also going after Pope early on.

Solon (Oh.) 6-10 sensation Dallas Lauderdale is also a prominent name to keep an eye on this upcoming season. The Comet star sophomore has a scary wingspan and has been developing into a fast-rising prospect.

With great instincts, a nice frame, and good footwork, Lauderdale is primed for being a tremendous shot-blocker in college.

Lauderdale often sizzled this summer, playing along side 6-5 junior David Lighty with the Tower Titans AAU team. Lauderdale is considered the third or fourth best prospect in the class of 2007 in Ohio behind only Mayo and Bill Walker.

The final but perhaps most intriguing 2007 center might be Romulus, Mich. 6-7 Devin Searcy. Searcy is a fast-growing sophomore who is extremely athletic and has a very high upside.

Blessed with an incredible vertical and a knack for blocking shots, Searcy can also be a human highlight reel. Already, colleges have begun knocking down the door to watch him in open gyms, and as his stock has risen, so too has the amount of letters he gets from college coaches.

If you haven't heard much about Searcy, stick around -- you will very soon.

Stay tuned for the second edition of the Focus on the Future, when we focus on the power forward prospects.

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