Bucknuts Mag Excerpts: The Foundation Is Set

With all the talk surrounding basketball recruiting (for good reason), we thought we'd make this week's version of Bucknuts Magazine Excerpts fit that topic. In the most recent issue (Summer '05), Steve Helwagen addressed the state of basketball recruiting, which at the time was looking at the possibility of commits from Greg Oden and Mike Conley after earlier commitments from Daequan Cook and David Lighty. Read on for a look back at Cook and Lighty's thoughts on choosing Ohio State.

As part of the redesign of the Bucknuts.com web site, we have added an area where we can publish excerpts from Bucknuts The Magazine. Each week, we will put in a new excerpt from the latest edition of Bucknuts The Magazine.

BTM has evolved from humble beginnings as a 32-page magazine into its current format as an 80-page magazine. It is published 10 times a year (monthly from September through April, then once in the Spring and Summer).

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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.

The Summer Issue, with A.J. Hawk on the cover, is available on newsstands now. Our next issue will be arriving in August. If you subscribe before July 15, your subscription will begin with that issue.

This week's excerpt is from the most recent issue of Bucknuts, the summer football preview issue that will be available on newsstands throughout the coming weeks. This article dealt with the state of OSU hoops recruiting at the time of print and takes a look back at OSU's first two commitments -- Daequan Cook and David Lighty -- and what caused them to choose the Buckeyes.

Headline: The Foundation Is Set

By Steve Helwagen

It was just one year ago when the fortunes of the Ohio State men's basketball program looked pretty bleak.

Athletic director Andy Geiger fired head coach Jim O'Brien after the coach admitted he had committed recruiting violations. The program was sent into limbo as Geiger began a monthlong search for the new coach.

Of course, by early July Geiger introduced his selection, former Xavier head coach Thad Matta.

Fast forward a year and, well, things look pretty bleak – for the rest of the Big Ten, that is.

Matta enjoyed a 20-win season in his debut as the OSU coach, capping the year with an upset of previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Illinois.

It was just a few weeks after that landmark win when Matta and the Buckeyes reaped the rewards of their sudden success. Dayton Dunbar junior guard Daequan Cook, the state's top junior and the nation's eighth-best junior prospect according to ScoutHoops.com, ended the suspense when he committed to OSU on March 23.

The good news kept coming on May 2, when Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph wing David Lighty, the state's No. 2 junior and No. 21 nationally, committed to the Buckeyes.

But, as the deadline for this edition of Bucknuts The Magazine had passed, Matta seemed to only be warming up.

It seemed entirely possible that Matta and the Buckeyes could also land a pair of national top-30 prospects from Indianapolis Lawrence North in center Greg Oden and point guard Mike Conley Jr. Oden was USA Today's national player of the year as a junior and ScoutHoops.com's No. 1 overall junior prospect. Conley checked in at No. 26 nationally. Oden and Conley, AAU teammates of Cook's, were pretty much down to OSU and Wake Forest.

And OSU was also working hard to go after more top-30 talent in Memphis standout Thaddeus Young (No. 5) and New Jersey star Lance Thomas (No. 15).

And, even better, this class – which some were already comparing to Michigan's famed Fab Five of 1991 – was seen by many as just the beginning.

Ohio State and Matta were already in good shape on some of the nation's top sophomores, including Indianapolis North Central point guard Eric Gordon (also a member of the Spiece Indy Heat AAU team that includes Cook, Oden and Conley) and Solon, Ohio, power forward Dallas Lauderdale.

Of course, the Buckeyes already have a verbal for the Class of 2008 in Canal Winchester (Ohio) World Harvest Prep center B.J. Mullens. Several of Mullens' talented AAU teammates in that class were also strongly considering the Buckeyes.

Add it all up and it is quite clear that Matta and his staff of assistants – John Groce, Alan Major and Dan Peters – have kept themselves pretty busy over their first year on the job at Ohio State.

The prospect that OSU would land a Duke-like four or five national top-30 prospects in the Class of 2006 was not lost on recruiting analysts.

"Talking in general, the ability for Ohio State to get all four of those guys is unbelievable," said Dave Telep, national recruiting editor for ScoutHoops.com. "Now, whether Greg Oden becomes a Pacer or a Buckeye or a Spartan or whatever, you have to look at the big picture. The state and the region are so loaded over the next three years behind this class.

"There are a handful of guys who if they're able to get them you can say they are loading up to make a run at the big one. That's how good the talent is there for '06, '07 and '08. They have a chance here over the next five years to make a run (at a national title)."

Chris Johnson, the Ohio editor of HoopScoopOnline.com, said the verbals by Cook and Lighty give OSU a dynamite backcourt.

"They have two wings now," Johnson said. "Obviously, Conley is their point guard of choice. After that, they are after several bigs who can rebound, whether that is Oden or Thaddeus Young. It seems like they are trying to get in on some other big kids.

"It is a lot easier to sell out-of-state guys on the program when they have this kind of credibility. Any time you can land the top two players in Ohio, that's quite an accomplishment. To top it off, they are two recruits in the top 30 nationally. This also sends a message that they intend to build a fence around the state of Ohio. More important, it sends the message nationally that this is shaping up to be a tremendous recruiting class. If you can get the ball rolling sometimes you have that domino effect."

Telep believes a Lighty-Cook backcourt could be dynamite.

"In college, the way the whole thing sets up you can play two guys like this together," Telep said. "Lighty can probably play a little bit of the three. The big thing is the size of each of these players. This is not like they got a 5-11 point guard and a 6-1 shooting guard. These guys are each in the 6-5 range."

Cook Sets The Tone

Cook will be remembered as the first player in this class, the one that got the ball rolling.

The 6-5 Cook averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds per game as a junior, earning co-state player of the year honors and leading Dunbar to a 22-5 record and a berth in the Division II state semifinals. Cook attended OSU's win over No. 1-ranked Illinois in early March, then enjoyed playing in Value City Arena for the state tournament.

He ended up picking Ohio State over the likes of Illinois, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina.

Cook was asked if there were any specific players he would like to see commit to OSU.

"Well, a few of my AAU friends, like Greg, Mike, and David Lighty. We have all been talking about going to the same school and playing together."

Cook would be eligible to sign in the early signing period for college recruits in November and would be a freshman at his college of choice in 2006-07.

If it is, indeed, Ohio State, Cook, as a national top-10 prospect, could be viewed as OSU's biggest basketball recruit since Jim Jackson committed to head coach Gary Williams and assistant Randy Ayers in 1989.

Cook says there is still about a "30 percent chance" he will opt for the NBA directly out of high school. He says it will depend on whether or not he is expected to be a lottery pick.

Cook talked about what it will take to put OSU on top: "Work and players. That's it. I can't say much about the team they have because I'm not there. But when I get there, I'm going to make it big time. The guys I'm going to bring with me will help us get there."

He said Matta's move from Xavier to Ohio State was huge in his eyes.

"When I heard he moved from Xavier to Ohio State, that made me like Ohio State even more," Cook said. "At one point in time, I did like Ohio State until they had that incident.

"I just love Coach Matta," Cook said. "He's been a winning coach everywhere he's been. He has been in March Madness and has pulled out some big wins. I just like his coaching.

"I love Ohio State," he added.

Dayton Dunbar boys basketball coach Peter Pullen talked about some of Cook's qualities as a player.

"He is able to handle pressure," Pullen said. "He is determined. I tell him he's one of those guys early in the game who is laid back and then decides to take over games in the last minute. I said, ‘Daequan, you've got to play hard all the time. You can't turn it on and turn it off all the time.' In the state tournament, he tried to turn it on and it wasn't there for him.

"He just brings so much to the team. He makes everybody around him a lot better. He likes it that way. The more quality players there are on the floor, the better he does. He rebounds and makes good passes to set his teammates up for easy baskets. That's what I like to see."

Pullen said Cook is a competitor all the way. That's why his lackluster showing in a state semifinal game – Cook was 10 of 23 from the floor and had 26 points and 12 rebounds in a 95-90 loss to eventual state champion Upper Sandusky – upset him a bit.

"After the state tournament he said, ‘I'm disappointed I let you down,' " Pullen said. "But I said, ‘You didn't. You played. Their shots were falling and ours (weren't).' We played a good game and we showed we didn't have any quit in us and we fought back. It really hurt him after the game because he thought this was the game where he needed to turn it on."

Turning On Lighty

The 6-5 Lighty verbaled to Ohio State over Syracuse, Michigan, Arizona and many others.

"For the last two years or so, I've been trying to decide on what college I'm going to go to," Lighty said at the beginning of the conference. "To extend my career at the next level, I have decided to attend Ohio State."

Lighty put on an OSU cap during the announcement to a round of applause.

"It was a long process, a tough process," Lighty added, after thanking all the schools that had recruited him.

Lighty averaged 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game last season, although his season was cut short by an ACL tear. Lighty is currently rehabilitating his injury.

He discussed the fact that he will be playing with Cook.

"It really didn't have much to do with me going there, but it's good that he's going there, too. We could have one of the best backcourts in the nation," Lighty said.

An outstanding athlete, Lighty was also among the top football prospects in his class and for a while was rated as the No. 1 overall prospect by Ohio High recruiting editor Duane Long. Lighty chose to give up football and concentrate on basketball before the start of the 2004 football season.

Now, Lighty is setting his sights on doing being things on the hardwood with the Buckeyes.

"Hopefully we can be the next North Carolina, have like a new Fab Five and hopefully win a national championship," he said. "I think there's going to be a good camaraderie and everyone is going to get along I feel, because they already play together. And me, I like to share the ball all the time and get people involved in the game so it's going to work out real good."

But first, Lighty has to get back to becoming the player that he was before he injured his knee on a dunk in the district finals this past season.

"I came down on it wrong after a dunk," Lighty said. "I got up and I thought I was fine, my knee just got a little tight. I fell on the ground wrong but I just got up and finished the game and the next morning it was swollen. I finished the game; there was about six minutes left in the third quarter. I played through it. I was happy and I got to cut down the nets. The next morning it was swollen the size of the watermelon."

It was an injury that cost him and his Viking teammates a legitimate shot at winning a state title last year.

"We were going down to the regionals, trying to get to the state championship, and I couldn't play and I couldn't help my team any more," Lighty said. "So it was real devastating to me."

But he's certainly learned from the whole experience.

"I appreciate things a lot more now, like walking. You really don't notice it until you can't walk any more. It would take me like 20 minutes to go from my room to the kitchen," Lighty said. "So the little things mean a lot more to me now."

Lighty gives Matta much of the credit for bringing in the guys like himself and Cook to try to win a national title at OSU.

"I don't really know if I would be a Buckeye if he wasn't there because he had a lot to do with it," Lighty said of Matta. "But I like the whole campus, the atmosphere, the fans and the location. Everyone there is about Ohio State and that's what I like the most about it.

"I feel very excited when you talk about Ohio State. I took a couple of visits down there and watched a couple of football games and it's just something that you'll always remember. When you go down there (to Ohio State) you feel like you're a part of it all."

Gary Housteau contributed to this report.

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