Making the future even brighter for the Buckeyes is the fact that guard Ron Lewis will become eligible next season.
The 6-4, 190-pound Lewis transferred from Bowling Green, where he was one of the top players in the Mid-American Conference.
As a freshman in 2002-03, Lewis averaged 12.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game and was named to the All-MAC freshman team.
As a sophomore in 2003-04, Lewis averaged a team-best 17 points per game, and added 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He was a second-team All-MAC selection.
After receiving so much playing time his first two seasons in college, he knew it was going to be difficult sitting out a full year at OSU.
"It's been tough, but it's not been as bad as I thought it was going to be," Lewis said. "I thought I'd be dreading the fact that I'm sitting out, but I think of it as another opportunity for me to get better. That's really what I've been focused on this year is just getting better. Just waiting for next year so I can just play my game."
Lewis' game includes getting to the foul line extremely often.
He was 149-of-187 (80 percent) from the stripe as a freshman at BGSU. As a sophomore, he was 191-of-233 (82 percent).
By comparison, as a team, Ohio State is just 300 of 458 this season from the foul line (66 percent). Terence Dials has by far the most free throw attempts on the team (109 of 177 for 62 percent). J.J. Sullinger has the next most (52 of 81 for 64 percent).
Right away in 2005-06, Lewis will provide an element that OSU does not currently have: a guard that can get to the line numerous times each game and knock down the shots.
"Well, I just like contact," Lewis said. "I just know how to get to the line. It's one thing to know how to shoot free throws, but it's another thing to know how to get to the free throw line. I'm just that type of player that knows how to get fouled and get to the free throw line."
Lewis is originally from Columbus and prepped at Brookhaven High School.
As a senior in 2001-02, he helped lead the Bearcats to a 27-1 record and Division I state championship. Lewis averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds and was named first-team All-Ohio.
As a junior, Lewis averaged 18 points and eight rebounds and was named third-team All-Ohio.
Despite that strong resume, he was somewhat overshadowed on his stacked high school team and did not receive the scholarship offers he was hoping for.
"No, I wasn't recruited by Ohio State at all coming out of high school," Lewis said. "I was recruited by a lot of MAC schools and Tulane.
"At Bowling Green, they looked at me and my friend (and former Brookhaven teammate) Raheem Moss. We went there on a package deal, but he transferred after our freshman year to Cleveland State."
Lewis has no regrets about his time at BGSU.
"I was happy with the way things went at BG," he said. "We had pretty good success and I started both years. The MAC is a strong league and it was a good way for me to begin my college career."
Lewis made just 16-of-61 3-point attempts (26 percent) as a freshman. However, he made 45-of-134 3-point attempts (34 percent) as a sophomore.
"I'd say probably the biggest thing I worked on was my outside shot," Lewis said. "I really worked on that between my freshman and sophomore seasons and I'm still working hard at it."
Bowling Green head coach Dan Dakich might have feared it was coming, but he was disappointed when Lewis informed him that he would be transferring.
"Yeah, he was upset," Lewis said. "I was the leading scorer on the team. He was upset, but he had no personal hard feelings toward me, and I had no hard feelings with him. It was nothing I had against Coach Dakich, and it was nothing he had against me. It was just me making the right move for myself."
It seems like a natural move for a Columbus guy like Lewis. He wanted to play for the Buckeyes growing up, but it didn't work out at first. Then he tore it up at Bowling Green and earned the scholarship he always wanted.
"Yeah, it's great coming back home," Lewis said. "Just the feeling of being back home and playing in front of the people that I grew up with and the people that have grown to love Brookhaven have grown to love Ohio State too. I always dreamed of playing for Ohio State growing up around here and it's great that it's a reality now."
Lewis was asked if he contacted Matta when he decided to transfer, or vice versa.
"Well, actually (Matta) called my brother," Lewis said. "After I got my release papers, he called my brother and we came up to visit. After that, it was basically just me sitting down with my mom and my family seeing what the best option for me was. Coach Matta felt it was the best option for me because this is really my home."
Did Matta and Lewis' brother already know each other?
"Nah, he didn't know my brother at all," Lewis said. "A recruiter sent out e-mails to all the coaches, and that's how everybody really found out that I was transferring. After that, it was a matter of me finding out which way I was going."
Lewis decided to make the most out of his transfer season. He worked just as hard as he would have if he was a starter on this year's team.
"Yeah, my job this year has been to make the guards on this team better," he said. "I treat every practice as my games. I work on refining my game and doing everything I can to get better and if I do that and go hard every day, it will make this team better. Practices have actually been fun this year. More fun than I thought they would be. Coach Matta keeps it fun for us. It's pretty competitive."
And look out for those 2005-06 Bucks. Dials will be arguably the best post player in the conference and there will be plenty of talent around him, including the explosive Lewis. The 65-64 upset of No. 1 Illinois on Sunday also provides a nice springboard into next season.
"Yeah, we should be a real good team," Lewis said. "We should shock a lot of people coming into next year. I just really think that we'll be able to get it done. We've got a new coach and everybody will be into the system coming into next year. All of us will really know everything that is going on. Knowing what the coach wants. So, we should be ready to have a big year next year."