It was a tough day for Matta and the men's program as senior point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham learned after yesterday's closed scrimmage against Bowling Green that his mother, Chris Fuss-Cheatham, 44, had died in an auto accident Wednesday in Harmar, Pa.
Brandon's father, Jeff, 50, also was involved in the accident. He was in stable condition at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, according to the report.
A family member traveled to Columbus late last night and drove Brandon and his cousin Ashley Savage, a student assistant in the Ohio State men's basketball office, to Pittsburgh.
Matta fought back tears as he discussed the situation with reporters this afternoon.
"As most of you know, this is not a good day today for our program," Matta said. "As a coach, you don't get the opportunity to practice on what we had to deal with and what we'll have to deal with.
"When you see a player as we saw with Brandon and his cousin Ashley last night, it really makes you … it puts a lot of things into perspective.
"Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with Brandon and his family and his dad. Brandon has been dealing with the uncertainty of his dad and I think he's going to be OK. We need to rally around him and be there for him. His teammates last night were incredible. It's hard to even think about the season today when one of your players is going through what he's going through."
Matta said the players he spoke with talked about the devotion Chris Fuss-Cheatham had for her son and the team.
"The quote was she was kind of like a team mom," he said. "Who Chris was and what she meant to some of these guys, obviously, they're grieving as well."
OSU is scheduled to hold its only public exhibition Tuesday night against Division II Northern Kentucky at Value City Arena. But Matta indicated that exhibition could be postponed in light of this tragedy.
"That's more important," Matta said of dealing with this situation.
Matta indicated he has never dealt with a situation like this in his four previous seasons as a college head coach.
"It's probably one of the hardest things I've gone through as a coach," he said. "Your players are your kids and you never want to see them hurt. You always want to take that for them, as I do with my own kids. I sat down with him last night. You feel for him and have great concern for what he's going through."
Preseason Wears On
Matta did discuss how his team has fared during preseason practice.
"Terence (Dials), we have really been pleased with his progress," Matta said. "Getting him in in good shape has been a big thing for him. Ironically, Brandon has really been good and playing well. I talked to his mom last week and she told me she had never seen him this happy. Tony (Stockman) has done a nice job as well.
"Of the young guys, Je'Kel (Foster) has really stepped up and added some toughness to us. He comes from a program that won 32 games last year, so he has an appreciation for winning and understands what it takes."
Matta said he would use the exhibition game to give as many different players as many minutes as possible.
"Normally, I like to get guys in and play as many as we possibly can. But there is a fine line. You like to look at certain combinations and sometimes like to see a guy play an extra minute to see how he will do when he's tired. But this is important for us because it's our only chance to get in front of people and the lights.
"I don't think we'll know what our real rotation will be until late December or January," he said. "You want to continue to see who plays well on the road. I think the things we are constantly preaching are transition defense and how many easy buckets we're giving up. Dribble drives, are we getting crushed off the drives? And, of course, there's rebounding.
"Offensively, it's simple. You're concerned with taking care of the ball and sharing the ball."
Matta has preached conditioning and defense since his arrival.
"I think they're getting it, but it goes back to sustaining it and getting some toughness about us," Matta said. "We've played well defensively for 15 seconds, then 17, then 20. But we need to take it for 30. You can't take offense to defense. If you miss a shot, you still have to defend. You have to play both ends of the floor."
Matta was asked what he liked so far and what concerned him.
"Nothing and everything," he said, laughing. "No, I think we've done a nice job of taking care of the ball. That is one thing we've been on them about, having more assists than turnovers. I think the things we continue to build on are our defense and post feeding and shooting. Our guards will have to rebound. I am challenging those guys to pull down six or seven rebounds a game. We don't have a Shaq or a Dennis Rodman down there. Every time a shot goes up, we have to have five guys on the boards."
Matta will lean on Dials and sophomore Ivan Harris, in particular, inside.
"I think (Dials) has a chance to have a really good year," Matta said. "I don't know the Big Ten that well. But he is extremely committed to get the most out of himself. His work ethic has been tremendous since we've been here. He views himself as a guy who wants to be a great basketball player.
"Ivan has been very productive for us. He's posted up some and also stepped outside and shot it. We are definitely getting him to use his athleticism a little more. He is working on his post defense because he is going to be caught down there. Every time a shot goes up, he needs to be able to go up and rebound the ball at both ends."
Women's Team Well Regarded
Foster remained unimpressed despite his OSU women's team's lofty No. 9 ranking in the initial USA Today/ESPN top 25. OSU was the highest Big Ten team ranked in the poll.
"I think it's something you take it and look at it and you put it on the shelf and try to get better every day," Foster said. "Then, at the end of the year, you look at it and if you're still up there, then fine."
Foster guided Vanderbilt to the 1993 Final Four and also took four other teams to regional finals. He was asked after two weeks of practice how this OSU team compares to those squads.
"We're different," he said. "We may be deeper. I've had some very good teams, but I haven't had a team that is this deep. Based on the last group I had at Vanderbilt, they were great shooters and we had some great post players. We were able to space the floor out and had terrific halfcourt execution. Our Final Four team, we played a match-up zone and had good size and could shoot it.
"But we are deeper than those teams. We may not be as strong a shooting team, but we could end up being as good or better of a scoring team. I think we can be a harder team to prepare for. We can go four (guards) around one (post). But if our freshman post players continue to show the improvement they have, we could go high-low inside."
Foster's Buckeyes host the Australian Institute of Sport Nov. 10 for an exhibition before opening against Bowling Green Nov. 12 in the opening round of the Women's NIT. A win would give OSU a home game Nov. 14. The Buckeyes could then also host the NIT semis Nov. 17 and possibly even the finals Nov. 20 or 21.
"Those sites will be determined by attendance," Foster said. "We need a lot of people in the bleachers to get a third home game. We're looking forward to it."
No TV For OSU Men
ESPN-Plus has routinely carried OSU's men's basketball, showing games locally in Columbus on WBNS-TV (Ch. 10).
But the exhibition with NKU and the team's first two games in the Guardian Classic (Matta's OSU regular season debut against Towson State Nov. 15 and the second game against Robert Morris or Morgan State Nov. 16) will not be televised.
OSU's Nov. 19 home game with Delaware will be televised by ESPN-Plus (and presumably Channel 10).
But if OSU advances to the Guardians Classic semifinals in Kansas City Nov. 23 that game would not be televised. And, the tournament final on Nov. 24 will be shown only on College Sports TV (CSTV), a cable station which has very low penetration.
That means that between the exhibition and possibly the first five regular season games only one game (Delaware) would be shown over the air in Columbus.
The exhibition with NKU, provided it remains scheduled for Tuesday, has a special start time of 7 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Frank Willson, operations manager from WBNS-TV, contacted us to shed some light on what has happened with the OSU men's basketball package.
Here is what he wrote: "WBNS-10TV will be airing almost all of the OSU games offered by ESPN-Plus.
"The preseason games were not part of our original agreement for 2004/2005 and we did not have enough preemption hours left over to air them.
"Three games will possibly move to WWHO-TV (Ch. 53): 11/27, 12/11, and 12/19. The rest are scheduled to air on WBNS."