Matta Reacts To Recruiting Class

Wednesday marked the first time Ohio State head coach Thad Matta could publically discuss his 2006 recruiting class, better known as the "Thad Five." Matta received National Letters of Intent from Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, David Lighty and Othello Hunter and was more than pleased to discuss their recruitment and what they will mean to the program.

After much anticipation, the five members of Ohio State's 2006 basketball recruiting class signed their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.

The group, affectionately coined the "Thad Five," is ranked as the No. 1 class in the nation by most analysts.

The headliner of the class is 7-foot center Greg Oden from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. He is widely regarded as the No. 1 player in the country. As a junior in 2004-05, he averaged 20 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

His teammate at Lawrence North, 6-1 guard Mike Conley Jr., ranks among the top 20 overall players in the country and one of the top three point guards.

And there is a strong Ohio flavor as well. The top two prospects from the Buckeye State are also signed, sealed and delivered. They include 6-4 guard Daequan Cook from Dayton Dunbar, and 6-5 swingman David Lighty from Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph. Cook is ranked in the top 15 nationally and Lighty is ranked in the top 30, despite missing the end of last season and all summer with a knee injury.

Rounding out the class is 6-9 power forward Othello Hunter from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta found it difficult to conceal his smile on this historical day – the first day he could comment on his ballyhooed class.

"Today is a very exciting day for us at Ohio State," Matta said. "I think anytime you have National Letters of Intent come in, you're nervous that the fax machine might be broke, or anything along those lines. But I think this class, these guys signing with us today is unique because I think we've got every position filled, which not very many times in college basketball do you have that opportunity."

Matta began recruiting four-fifths of the class as soon as he accepted the job at OSU last summer.

"I remember July 7th at 2:30 in the morning last year standing at my house in Cincinnati, was talking to (OSU assistant coach) John Groce on the phone and I said, ‘Where is Cook, Lighty, Oden and Conley going to be tomorrow?' And he said, ‘In Teaneck, New Jersey.' I said, ‘Well, we need to get on a flight and get there.' And we left about two and a half hours later with no Ohio State gear on and went to work. Obviously it's worked out well for us. So, without question, we're excited to have these guys coming in and joining our family."

Matta says all five players are proven winners. Oden and Conley have led Lawrence North to back-to-back state championships. Cook led Dunbar to the Division II state semifinals last year, before losing to Upper Sandusky. Oden, Conley and Cook have also won AAU championships together as part of the Spiece Indy Heat team.

"As I look at each guy, I think one of the big things is that they are all coming from programs that I've got tremendous respect, not only for the programs, but for the coaches," Matta said. "These kids have proven they can win and we know they're going to be coached. And getting two of the top players out of the state of Ohio is obviously a tremendous focus for us with David and Daequan. Getting Daequan to commit last April, we felt that was a major step in the right direction.

"We're excited about and we're glad this is behind us and now we move on and coach our team this year."

Some pundits have already touted Oden as the best Big Ten recruit since Magic Johnson at Michigan State in the late 1970's.

"Well, I think that Greg is one of the most unique guys I've ever coached because of who he is as a person," Matta said. "I think when you have an opportunity to recruit a young man like Greg and you get to know him and who he is and what he stands for, that makes it special within itself.

"And the fact that he's seven-feet tall and his athletic and skill levels are good makes it even better. I think the thing that Greg is going to bring to Ohio State is a defensive presence, because he's one of the best shot blockers I have ever seen. I think that his ability to finish around the basket is very good as well. He has a chance to be special, but I think it all starts with him and his humility that he carries for his age, at 17 years old."

Matta was asked if he thinks Oden will have the type of impact at OSU where top recruits will be compared to him 25 years from now.

"I hope so. I think that he has that capability," Matta said. "But if you asked Greg that question, he is one of those guys, he had a great quote this summer where he said, ‘Everyone says I'm this great player, but I don't shoot real well, I don't dribble, and in my mind to be a good basketball player you have to be able to do those things well.' And I think that's what makes him. He's very eager to learn. Honestly, time will tell in that regard."

Many times when highly-touted recruiting classes come together, there are concerns about chemistry and how they will mesh together. But with Oden, Conley and Cook playing AAU ball together, Matta is not the least bit worried.

"I think the thing that is exciting is that these kids want to win," he said. "They're unique with Greg, Mike and Daequan playing together quite a bit in the offseason. I think that you get a true appreciation for their ability to play team basketball. I think that they're going to be able to come in and fit in with who we have returning and kind of the style of play that we want to continue to play here at Ohio State. I think they're all great kids, great character and they want to be Buckeyes and I think they'll do what they need to do to help us."

Cook might have been the catalyst of the entire class. He was the first one to verbally commit and helped bring the others on board.

"Yeah, we had heard there was a possibility they wanted to play together," Matta said. "But, I honestly believe this: the young men that we got all come from great surroundings and I think everyone in the end was going to look and say, ‘What's best for me? What's best for my son?' And you like that in that regard that they would do that. And we feel fortunate that they felt Ohio State was the right place."

Matta says it was not hard selling Ohio State to the young players.

"Number one, I think we have a tremendous product," he said. "We don't have to hide anything at Ohio State. If anything else, we're going to show everything off that's here. We want to show the people off, we want to show the facilities off, we want to show our academics off. And you hope that kids look at that and say, ‘This is a great place for me.'

"I think the second thing is that the coaches on the staff do a tremendous job. We were relentless in our pursuit to get these guys. And we've laughed. The first time we came off the road I said, ‘These are the four guys I want.' And (OSU assistant coach) Dan Peters started laughing and said, ‘You've got to be kidding me.' But we were able to stay with it, and it wasn't easy. There's always going to be challenges in recruiting, but we felt like we had to find a way to get the job done."

Matta was asked if there was one moment when he realized that the Buckeyes had a good chance at landing all of these talented prospects.

"I don't know if there was really a defining moment, until today when the last fax came through," he said with a laugh. "But I think we felt good with David and Daequan because of them being Ohio kids and the power of Ohio State.

"I think with Greg and Michael, they were going to be meticulous in their approach and what they were looking for. And they wanted to see first hand how they would fit in at Ohio State.

"And I think Othello, he's such a unique situation because a lot of people didn't know anything about him. As we continued to watch him over the summer, he continued to improve. And his body has changed, even since he was on campus for the first home football game.

"So, I think putting it all together was something we talked about it. Because I think in recruiting, when you get commended for doing a good job in recruiting is when you fill the needs of your team. And with what we're going to lose this year, I think it was important to get these guys in here the following year."

Ohio State did include a stipulation that the players could be released from their letters of intent if OSU was banned from the 2007 NCAA Tournament (for improprieties during the Jim O'Brien era). Matta was asked whose idea that was.

"Mine," he said. "I didn't even research it or anything like that… That was for the kids. I wouldn't want them here if they couldn't play in the tournament next year."

Matta was asked if Wednesday was a defining day for OSU basketball, signing not only the best class in college basketball this year, but one of the best in recent memory.

"I hope so," he said. "But I don't think that we would ever be able to answer that until we see how things progress. It's one of those deals, so much gets made of where a guy might be ranked. And I've said this before, I started a couple guys at Xavier who weren't top 500 players in the country in a game to go to the Elite Eight. And they were freshmen."

Rightfully so, Matta has the national reputation of a tireless recruiter. Landing the top class in America will just heighten that feeling.

"Recruiting is the foundation of what you do," Matta said.

But getting all four of the players they targeted, plus a good fifth member in Hunter? Just how often does a coaching staff land most of the players it wanted?

"John's been with me the longest and we've been pretty lucky in that regard," Matta said. "We've been pretty fortunate in saying, ‘We want these guys,' and getting them. Not to say that we've gotten every one of them, but we feel blessed in who we've gotten in all of our stops."

Matta was asked what it was like to go to various camps over the summer and watch Oden, Conley and Cook dominate, knowing they were going to be Buckeyes.

"Yeah, we joke as a staff and it's odd because it seems like for most of our young careers we were the guys sitting there saying, ‘Wow, I'd like to have those guys,'" Matta said. "But it was a good feeling watching those three guys in particular play well and win championships. Because I love recruiting guys who know how to win."

Throughout the press conference, songs from the band Bon Jovi echoed through the room. Bon Jovi was set to hold a concert at the Schottenstein Center Wednesday night.

"It's such a big day, we decided to bring him in and play for us," Matta joked.

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