What They're Saying: Oden, Conley To OSU

Wednesday's announcement that Indianapolis Lawrence North teammates Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. had selected Ohio State could be a landmark day for the OSU men's basketball program. We asked recruiting experts Chris Johnson and Dave Telep for their input on this historic development.

With verbal commitments by Indianapolis Lawrence North teammates Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. – each ranked in the top 30 nationally – this figures to be one of the biggest days in the history of the Ohio State men's basketball program.

The 7-0 Oden, ranked No. 1 nationally by ScoutHoops.com, and the 6-1 Conley, ranked 26th become OSU's third and fourth commitments in the Class of 2006. They join fellow top-30 prospects Daequan Cook of Dayton Dunbar and David Lighty of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph. The 6-5 Cook is ranked eighth nationally, while Lighty is ranked 21st.

OSU coach Thad Matta has all but cemented a class that will be ranked in the top three nationally and could be the best in school history.

"I wasn't around in 1960 for the class where Fred Taylor brought in Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and the rest," said HoopScoopOnline.com Ohio editor Chris Johnson. "But this is pretty good. I guess the one interesting thing about it is they got a guy at every position. They are a power forward away from having the `perfect class.' They got a center, a point guard and a couple of wings. And they could theoretically add two more guys.

"The other thing that is notable is everybody – and especially all of the younger kids – knows who Greg Oden is. This establishes, for however long he is there, a credibility for not only kids around Ohio but around the country."

It has been an amazing first year for Matta, who inherited an OSU program under NCAA investigation. But after self-imposing a postseason ban last season, the university seems to be within months of putting its past transgressions behind it.

And Matta has wasted no time in putting the pieces in place for what could be a bright future.

"They did it because this guy is a charismatic leader," said Dave Telep, national recruiting editor for ScoutHoops.com. "He is passionate about recruiting. He has managed to transcend any of the negativity. He not been fooled by any of the curveballs that have come his way. He has been selling these kids on Ohio State and himself and on the relationship they have with each other."

Cook, Oden and Conley are AAU teammates on the Spiece Indy Heat. Telep noted how that kinship resulted in today's announcement.

"It takes a special group of kids to do this," Telep said. "It is one thing to be friends. But it's an entirely different thing to not be selfish. What's unique is they all play different positions. They will never have to compete with each other for playing time. From that standpoint, Ohio State is very fortunate to recruit this group of guys.

"It's a credit to the kids to put their egos aside and come together. They could have each gone different places and been the focal point by themselves. It's a credit to them to be unselfish and see the bigger picture."

Johnson also marveled out how these friends have succeeded in becoming the ultimate package deal.

"The key thing for Ohio State was getting Cook to commit early," Johnson said. "That got the ball rolling and that's when they were able to turn the tide with Oden and Conley. Ohio State, rather than just being one of the schools they were considering, became the school at the top of the list.

"Cook also gave them an extra recruiter. He was able to make unlimited phone calls and live with Greg and Mike."

The wheels for today's announcement were put in place by the June 21 announcement by the NBA that its players union had agreed to an age restriction as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. Under the new deal, players must be one year removed from their high school graduation to be eligible for the draft.

For Oden, who would have been a candidate for the top pick in the 2006 draft, it made college basketball a reality.

"I think in Oden's case when he knew what the rule was going to be, that shaped his thinking," Telep said. "Once that was announced, I think that kind of put a calm over it. The timing couldn't have been better for Ohio State. The relationship with Ohio State is good, but they didn't need a feeding frenzy in July where Roy Williams and Mike Krzyewski are sitting at Greg Oden's games for the entire month."

Regarding Oden, Telep believes the Buckeyes can be truly special with him prowling the paint.

"With Greg Oden, how he approaches the game will define how Ohio State plays as a team," Telep said. "If he is aggressive at both ends of the floor, Ohio State is going to be a nasty bunch. He just makes it so difficult for kids to score inside. He will define how Ohio State plays."

Johnson agreed that Oden's impact on a game can not be understated.

"Obviously, he is a tremendous shot blocker and rebounder," Johnson said. "He makes everybody else better on defense because they can cheat in the passing lanes and overplay people because they know he will clean up their mistakes.

"Offensively, his game is still developing. But I think he is underrated as a passer. He knows when he is double teamed where it is supposed to go. He doesn't just throw it back out."

When asked what Conley brings to the table, Telep said, "Leadership. Conley is the guy these kids look to for direction. He's the kid who shows the most leadership in the group."

Johnson added, "He has great leadership skills. He is also a great passer. He always seems to hit the right person and he gets it to them where they can do something with it. He is also an excellent three-point shooter. You can't just sag back on him. The one knock on him I might say is he needs to get stronger to play college basketball. But he has a year to do that."

OSU actually has as many as three more scholarships it can offer in this class. However, it seems likely the coaching staff may bank one or two of those scholarships for next year, when they can issue three other scholarships. OSU may also face a scholarship restriction for one or two years as a result of NCAA sanctions.

"Frankly, anybody else in this class would be a luxury," Telep said. "I think it's almost embarrassing to ask who else they might get."

Some of the power forward prospects mentioned to fill the fifth spot include Tennesee's 6-8 Thaddeus Young (ranked eighth nationally), Canton (Ohio) McKinley's 6-7 Raymar Morgan (ranked 49th), Indiana's 6-8 Luke Harangody (51st) and Indiana's 6-8 Jamil Tucker (54th).

Once that bit of business is complete, Matta and his assistants can go to work on prospects for the high school class headed into its junior year.

"This gives them an unbelievable advantage to go out and look at guys for 2007," Matta said. "This should give them a head start on who they want next year."

With Ohio loaded in 2007 as well, Johnson said the Buckeyes could truly be on the verge something special.

"The scary thing is the 2007 class in Ohio could be the best I've ever seen in the state," Johnson said. "They have a dozen guys who could be ranked in the top 100 nationally.

"This (OSU) class is going to be great. But we could potentially see the best back-to-back classes ever assembled. You have the three guys at North College Hill with O.J. Mayo, Billy Walker and Keenan Ellis. Then, you have guys like (Canton GlenOak's) Kosta Koufos, (Solon's) Dallas Lauderdale, (Trotwood-Madison's) Chris Wright and (Greenfield McClain's) Dante Jackson."

Johnson also heaped praise on former OSU athletic director Andy Geiger for hiring Matta.

"His era as the athletic director ended prematurely probably from his perspective," Johnson said. "But when this is all said and done, I think he will look like a genius. What's lost in the whole thing is that Geiger was ridiculed for various things. It's ironic that he was lambasted about his methodical approach to this hiring.

"But it looks like he struck gold here. And, quite frankly, I think Thad Matta is the only coach in the country that they could have hired who would have been able to land Greg Oden and Mike Conley. Other coaches may have gotten Lighty and Cook, but not all four of them."

Whether Matta and staff can prolong their recruiting success or not, it is clear that expectations for the OSU program – which has been to one Final Four since 1968 and claimed just four Big Ten regular season titles since 1971 – are about to go through the roof.

"Without a doubt, when you have the best recruiting class in the country, that brings Final Fours and national championships into the equation," Johnson said. "That is where the bar is now set. It is set at the highest level."


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