The Buckeyes defeated Findlay in last Sunday's exhibition opener, 83-53. Ohio State will open up its regular season on Sunday, Nov. 20, against visiting Chicago State (2 p.m., ONN).
Although he is preparing for the season, OSU coach Thad Matta is still basking in the glow of signing what some believe is the best recruiting class in school history. Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, David Lighty and Othello Hunter all signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.
But with the 2006-07 season still far away, Matta is focused on making this year's team as good as it can be.
"You know, honestly, you're happy you got them, but your focus goes to your team," Matta said. "As I told those guys, ‘Go try and win state championships and we'll worry about next year when everybody's season ends.' That's kind of how it goes. As much as you would like to (talk about it) you just move on and keep the focus on where it's important."
Matta is pleased that the Buckeyes can scrimmage other college teams, as opposed to the traveling teams, such as Athletes in Action.
"Well, the thing that I like about what we've done this year in playing Findlay and Ashland is that you've got teams coming in here with purpose," Matta said. "They have a goal; we have a goal. And I think at this particular time of the year, my goal is trying to get better. Hopefully we'll play better than we did last Sunday against Findlay. When you play those AAU team, or traveling teams, you didn't know who was showing up until the ball got thrown up. It was bad basketball.
"What we're trying to do, (Ashland is) trying to. They're going to come in and try and run their offense and they're going to try and stop us from scoring and things matter. So, that's what I enjoy about these games."
Matta has been pleased with the play of senior forward J.J. Sullinger.
"I think that he's one of those guys as a senior that has said, ‘Hey, it's winding down for me. I'm going to give everything I've got every time I step on the floor,'" Matta said. "I think the small things matter more to him as we've began this year, then maybe before. Rebounding, defending on the ball, giving better help – being in better help position. Having a better understanding offensively of timing, as opposed to just kind of playing and saying, ‘Hey, I'm just going to make plays off of my athleticism.' Now, he seems to be putting more purpose in everything he does."
Senior center Terence Dials had a very good season last year and was named second-team All-Big Ten. This year, Matta believes he is ready to take that next step and be a dominant force.
"I think he is," Matta said. "The biggest thing with Terence is his physical condition is better. I think – a lot like a lot of these guys – he has a better understanding. His defense has been better. He had four fouls the other day and three of them were because of our miscues defensively out on the perimeter. And that's why we're always trying to get our guards to do a better job. If you're on the side of the guy 40 feet from the basket and he drives in, we put Terence in a bad situation. And those areas need to get corrected."
Jamar Butler is OSU's starting point guard and Je'Kel Foster will also run the point at times. Matta was asked if anyone else will log minutes at the point.
"I think Sylvester Mayes, and we can even bump Ron (Lewis) over there if we have to," Matta said. "And that's the thing of trying to get our guys to understand once we get the ball into the motion, now we're all the same. You've got four guys out there who are all doing the same thing. So, that's kind of the way we do that."
Finally, Matta was asked what he wants to see the Buckeyes accomplish Sunday against Ashland.
"I'm using these exhibition games as just a gage to try and get guys experience," he said. "I think Ron hopefully got some of the jitters out, because first time he tried to drive through the entire Findlay team and the second time he threw the ball off the corner of the backboard. And then he finally got relaxed in the second half and played the way we thought he would play.
"And that's what you want to do with these games is get guys into the flow. It's the first time you have uniforms on and the first time you have people in the stands and that sort of thing."
Lewis admits he is still trying to find his groove after sitting out last season after transferring from Bowling Green.
"Yeah, I'm still knocking the rust off," Lewis said. "It was only one exhibition game. You probably need at least two to get all the rust off a little bit. But, I think after the second exhibition game, I'll be fine."
Lewis has been inserted into the starting lineup and he feels he is better in that role, as opposed to coming off the bench.
"It is helping me a lot," Lewis said. "I'm getting a feel of everything being able to start. I'm able to get back into my role. Just being able to come out in the beginning of the games and start with a lot of pressure. It's going to be good to be able to get that first game under my belt when it comes up on the 20th."
Lewis was asked if he's a streaky player, someone who scores in bunches.
"Well, yeah, I describe myself as a person who scores in bunches," he said. "I give my points in the flow of the game. When there's a spurt going on, I'm probably usually the person to get into spurts. That's the type of person that I want to be – just to get my points in bunches and being able to score in that capacity."