Matta took over the OSU program this past July after the firing of seven-year head coach Jim O'Brien. The new coach finds four returning starters from last year's squad that finished 14-16 overall for OSU's first losing season since O'Brien's first year in 1997-98.
It has been a hectic three months for the 37-year-old Matta, who came to Ohio State from Xavier.
"We are just still trying to get to know our guys," said Matta, who will conduct his first practice with the Buckeyes Saturday. "But we are excited about this weekend and the chance to get started. We are eager to teach our system and see what these guys are all about.
"We are just wrapping up the recruiting phase and for two of the three months we've been here, we've been gone on the road recruiting. It's good to be home and to go to work with this team. It's very exciting for us."
When asked about expectations for his first time, Matta replied, "We won't know that until January, after we get through the early games. We'll see then how they handle adversity, how they handle success, how they handle playing on the road. Those are things we have no idea about and those aren't things you can even gauge from practice."
Matta said he did not spend a lot of time watching tape of last year's team.
"I wanted a fresh start," he said. "I did not want to prejudice my thoughts. I give the guys credit. They have worked extremely hard. Their focus and concentration have been extremely good."
Senior guard Tony Stockman is OSU's top returning scorer at 13.6 points per game. Also returning is junior forward Terence Dials (10.4 ppg, 6.6 rebounds per game), junior wing J.J. Sullinger (10.1 ppg) and senior point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (5.4 ppg).
"Coach Matta is very upbeat," Stockman said. "That rubs off on us. That passion shows in basketball."
Dials, OSU's team captain, was a member of the selection committee that helped select Matta.
"He is a very hands on coach," Dials said. "I'm sure when practice starts, we will see the other side of Coach Matta. That's what we need."
Also returning in the backcourt are junior Ricardo Billings and junior walk-on Ugo Nwankwo. Returning at forward are sophomore Ivan Harris and junior Matt Sylvester. Matt Marinchick, a senior center, returns inside.
Newcomers with the team include freshman guard Jamar Butler, freshman forwards Matt Terwilliger and Jermyl Jackson-Wilson and junior college transfer Ja'Kel Foster, a guard. Bowling Green transfer Ronald Lewis, a guard, was also with the team today. But Lewis can only practice this season as a transfer.
Matta discussed how he wants his first OSU team to develop.
"I want our guys to have a complete understanding of competing with toughness and playing as a team," the coach said. "That's playing hard and playing smart and playing as a team. It's playing the game the right way. That's one of the big challenges we have is getting our guys to understand this is how we want to do things.
"Obviously, it's going to be a continuing evaluation and a lot of changes as we go forward."
But Matta likes where the Buckeyes are coming from.
"I like their attitude," Matta said. "They appear on the surface to be hungry."
Ohio State is still awaiting an NCAA ruling on possible violations that may have occurred on O'Brien's watch.
"With the NCAA, that's something that is going to pend on us and, obviously, that is out of our control," Matta said. "For us to spend any time thinking about it, that would be foolish. We've got bigger things to think about."
Matta has already dealt with one crisis – the recent drunken driving arrest of Sullinger.
"With James' situation, we handled that within the family," he said. "That was a poor decision on his part. But hopefully, as a part of this program, he can learn from it."
Click the link below for the OSU men's basketball schedule.