Buckeyes Reflect On Year, Look Ahead To 06-07

Following Sunday's NCAA Tournament loss to Georgetown, we polled the players and coach Thad Matta on their 26-win campaign, which included an outright Big Ten championship. Plus, we have comments from Matta and his returning players on next year. And, we examine the personnel leaving, staying and coming in next year for the Buckeyes. Check it out.

Even if it did not necessarily end on a high note, Ohio State's 2005-06 men's basketball season was certainly a special one.

The Buckeyes saw their season come to an unceremonious end Sunday when, playing as the two seed in the NCAA Minneapolis Region, they were upset by seventh-seeded Georgetown 70-52. Even worse, the humbling defeat was somewhat on home turf as OSU played its first- and second-round NCAA games just one hour from campus at the University of Dayton.

But the plus side was this was a team that went 26-6, tying for the third most wins in a single season in school history. And this senior-laden team – picked for the middle of the pack in the Big Ten -- captured the school's first outright conference championship in 14 years.

"This team never lost two games in a row," said OSU coach Thad Matta, who boasts a two-year mark of 46-18 with the Buckeyes. "They put together some incredible win streaks. It's hard to believe it's over. Coaching this team, it feels like it's still October because it has been so much fun. It was unfortunate for it to end the way that it did. But all good things do come to an end.

 
"For this team to accomplish what they did and go 26-6 and win the Big Ten championship, it was a great accomplishment. I've never seen a basketball team play harder."

The Buckeyes were led by 6-9 center Terence Dials, the Big Ten player of the year, as well as his three fellow senior captains, Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester.

"I think with Terence, Matt, James and Je'Kel, what they've given us the last two years and the leadership they have provided and the focus they had for what we were doing, I hope they will never be forgotten at The Ohio State University because they deserve a ton of credit for what they've done," Matta said.

Nobody connected to the program was happy with the final game, which was OSU's most lopsided NCAA defeat ever.

"I said to (Georgetown coach John) Thompson (III) – we walked out of the arena together – I said, ‘If you guys play like that, I think you can win the whole thing.' He said, ‘I think you're right,' " Matta said.

"Throughout the course of the season, we could always find a way to slow a team down or speed ourselves up maybe and score some points. But in that game there wasn't a lot that we could get done, and that was a credit to them."

OSU's loss was the crowning blow as the Big Ten – the nation's top-ranked conference in RPI during the regular season – failed to advance a team to the Sweet 16 round for the first time since 1996.

"It's something for people to talk about," Matta said. "As you go through the season, that's where the work is. I was at a roundtable a few years ago with John Wooden and he was asked what he disliked the most about today's game. He said, ‘People put too much stock in your last game.' I would agree with that because it's the journey.

"It's 32 games. It's the whole season because there is only going to be one winner."

The Players' Take

Following the loss, we had a chance to speak with a number of the outgoing seniors for their take on the season.

"This was a year of overachieving," Sylvester said. "It was a year of making bonds that will last forever. We've had our ups and downs, like every team has. But nobody in this room has anything to be ashamed of. I love Thad and this staff. It was a great season. No one can take the outright Big Ten championship away from us. No one has regrets here."

Foster said simply reaching the NCAA Tournament was a thrill in and of itself.

"It meant a lot," Foster said. "Every college basketball player plays this game to get to the NCAA Tournament. We did a good job of playing together to get to this point.

"We accomplished a lot of things this season. Before the year started, nobody gave us any credit. We won the Big Ten championship outright. We were the only ones who believed in ourselves."

Dials willed OSU to the Big Ten championship with his play down the stretch.

"As a whole, I think we had a great run and a great season," he said after a 19-point effort in his final college game. "You can't dwell on this one loss."

Sullinger noted OSU's inconsistent shooting over the final eight games, when the Buckeyes never reached the 45 percent mark from the floor and went 6-2.

"We didn't shoot the ball extremely well down the stretch," he said. "We were a team that shot the ball well from the perimeter early on. We had not been hitting our shots a lot lately.

"No one ever gave us any credit. We were always underdogs even when we weren't supposed to be. This team has a lot to be proud of. Ohio State basketball is back. I'm just proud to say I was part of the group that helped this program get back into the NCAA.

"Right now, I'm just happy to say I was a part of something that was as special as this. This team went through a lot on and off the court. We tried so hard and we worked so hard. This team was my family away from home. I'm going to miss them so much. It's hard."

Looking Forward

Six scholarship players are due to return in 2006-07. They would be joined by a five-man recruiting class ranked as the nation's No. 2 class behind only North Carolina.

 
The top returning player would be Jamar Butler, who came into his own as a point guard as a sophomore. Following the loss on Sunday, Butler was asked when he would start thinking about next season.

"Right now. I'm thinking about next year right now," Butler said. "I'm off classes this week and as soon as we start classes I am going to go right back to work and try to improve my game. I can't wait for those freshmen to get here.

"We're going to have a young team next year. We're going to be really young. But I am just going to have to step up and lead that group."

Another key piece in the puzzle will be guard Ron Lewis, the team's sixth man this past year. Lewis transferred in from Bowling Green and he said the move was worth sitting out a season.

"It was everything I hoped it would be and even more," he said. "No one expected us to do anything, but we did. It was just a great season. I am looking forward to next season and doing the same thing."

Like Butler, Lewis figures to be a leader in 2006-07.

"If you have a positive, you have to try and build on that positive," he said. "That's what I am going to try and do. I am going to work hard on my game and try and get everybody else to work that hard as well."

Also due back would be senior-to-be forward Ivan Harris, senior-to-be guard Sylvester Mayes, junior-to-be center Matt Terwilliger and sophomore-to-be forward Brayden Bell.

"We're going to take some time and rest," Matta said. "We have four guys playing for state high school championships this coming season and I hope they finish that off. We'll come back after spring break and get ready to start building again. That's the beauty of what I love to do in coaching. Put all the pieces together and go in the right direction.

"We'll start the weight training and then we have skill instruction for two hours a week. That will mainly be ballhandling, shooting and offense stuff."

The recruiting class is headlined by 7-0 center Greg Oden, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. He is joined by his Indianapolis Lawrence North teammate and point guard Mike Conley. They will play for a third straight Indiana Class 4A state title on Saturday.

Two more OSU signees will play for Ohio state championships as Dayton Dunbar guard Daequan Cook and his team chase the Division II crown and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph's David Lighty and his squad will play for the Division III title this weekend at Value City Arena.

"It's great having Dave and Daequan coming in and playing in The Schott," Matta said.

Also in this class is 6-9 junior college transfer Othello Hunter, who could compete for minutes right away at power forward.

"He's in the running for the player of the year in the state of Florida," Hunter said. "He averaged a double-double."

The Buckeyes have several nonconference games locked up already for next year, including a much ballyhooed date against instate rival Cincinnati on Dec. 16 at Indianapolis. It would be the first meeting between the schools since the 1962 national championship game.

There have been reports noting that Ohio State may host games with Iowa State, Coppin State, Youngstown State and San Francisco, among others, and that the Buckeyes could make a cross-country visit to UCLA in December. Due to scheduling conflicts at VCA and television commitments, it is unlikely the final schedule for next year will be released before late July.

But, regardless of who OSU is playing, Matta likes what he sees.

"I think Ohio State basketball is definitely headed in the right direction," he said.

Charting The Buckeyes

Outgoing Seniors

* Terence Dials, 6-9, C -- Led team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg); solid as a rock down the stretch.

* Je'Kel Foster, 6-2, G -- Next in scoring at 12.2 ppg despite pronounced late-season shooting slump; heart and soul type player who never quit.

* J.J. Sullinger, 6-5, G -- Fifth-year senior who transferred in from Arkansas; averaged 10.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg; a real warrior who elevated his game down the stretch.

* Matt Sylvester, 6-7, F -- Back problems limited his effectiveness as a senior; averaged 7.4 ppg.

Returning Players (Class listed for next year)

 
* Ron Lewis, 6-3, G, Sr. --
Pleasant surprise as athletic sixth man; averaged 11.2 ppg.

* Jamar Butler, 6-1, G, Jr. -- Blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best point guards; was second in the Big Ten in assists-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.72); averaged 10.1 ppg and 4.6 assists per game; hit a team-high 41.4 percent of his three-point shots.

* Sylvester Mayes, 6-0, G, Sr. -- Played in 20 games, but only one over the final month for reasons unclear; quick guard who averaged 4.2 ppg.

* Ivan Harris, 6-7, F, Sr. -- Nicknamed the Microwave for providing instant offense off the bench; averaged 3.6 points per game; known mostly for three-point shooting (35.1 percent), but would be well served to improve his handle, defense and rebounding before next year.

* Matt Terwilliger, 6-8, F-C, Jr. -- Missed time late in the year after an appendectomy; served as Dials' primary backup; averaged 2.3 points in 27 games; played well in some stretches; just needs to keep working and getting better.

* Brayden Bell, 6-8, F-C, So. -- Only played in seven games; might have been well served by a redshirt year (and could still do that next year); skillful player with good range for a big guy.

* Samuel Payne, 6-2, G, So. -- Walk-on added to the team in December; played in six games.

The Newcomers

* Greg Oden, 7-0, C -- The nation's No. 1 overall prospect and likely repeat winner of USA Today national player of the year honors; shot blocking presence with great athletic ability and above average offensive skills. Averaged 22.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior; also hit over 70 percent of his shots from the floor.

* Mike Conley, 6-1, G -- Ranked as the nation's 25th-best prospect; great point guard who is heart and soul of Lawrence North's title teams. Averaged 17.0 ppg and 4.4 apg as a senior.

* Daequan Cook, 6-5, G -- Averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists as a senior in leading Dayton Dunbar back to the Division II state final four. A do-it-all guard who can take over a game when he wants to.

* David Lighty, 6-5, G -- Averaged 20.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists as a senior in leading Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph to the Division III state final four. Rebounded nicely from knee injury suffered late last year and could be an explosive scorer and play maker at the college level.

* Othello Hunter, 6-9, F -- Will transfer in from Hillsborough Community College in Florida; would have two years left; averaged 16.9 ppg and 11.0 rpg in his second year at Hillsborough; figures in as a power forward at the college level.

Verbal Commitments

* Class of 2007 -- OSU has one commitment from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, G Jon Diebler. Barring a spring signing this year, OSU could take as many as five players in this class or bank scholarships for 2008.

* Class of 2008 -- OSU has verbal commitments from Canal Winchester Harvest Prep center B.J. Mullens and Indianapolis Warren Central guard Walter Offutt.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories

\r\n\r\n \r\n \"For this team to accomplish what they did and go 26-6 and win the Big Ten championship, it was a great accomplishment. I've never seen a basketball team play harder.\"

\r\n

\r\nThe Buckeyes were led by 6-9 center Terence Dials, the Big Ten player of the year, as well as his three fellow senior captains, Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester.

\r\n

\r\n\"I think with Terence, Matt, James and Je'Kel, what they've given us the last two years and the leadership they have provided and the focus they had for what we were doing, I hope they will never be forgotten at The Ohio State University because they deserve a ton of credit for what they've done,\" Matta said.

\r\n

\r\nNobody connected to the program was happy with the final game, which was OSU's most lopsided NCAA defeat ever.

\r\n

\r\n\"I said to (Georgetown coach John) Thompson (III) – we walked out of the arena together – I said, ‘If you guys play like that, I think you can win the whole thing.' He said, ‘I think you're right,' \" Matta said.

\r\n

\r\n\"Throughout the course of the season, we could always find a way to slow a team down or speed ourselves up maybe and score some points. But in that game there wasn't a lot that we could get done, and that was a credit to them.\"

\r\n

\r\nOSU's loss was the crowning blow as the Big Ten – the nation's top-ranked conference in RPI during the regular season – failed to advance a team to the Sweet 16 round for the first time since 1996.

\r\n

\r\n\"It's something for people to talk about,\" Matta said. \"As you go through the season, that's where the work is. I was at a roundtable a few years ago with John Wooden and he was asked what he disliked the most about today's game. He said, ‘People put too much stock in your last game.' I would agree with that because it's the journey.

\r\n

\r\n\"It's 32 games. It's the whole season because there is only going to be one winner.\"

\r\n

\r\nThe Players' Take

\r\n

\r\nFollowing the loss, we had a chance to speak with a number of the outgoing seniors for their take on the season.

\r\n

\r\n\"This was a year of overachieving,\" Sylvester said. \"It was a year of making bonds that will last forever. We've had our ups and downs, like every team has. But nobody in this room has anything to be ashamed of. I love Thad and this staff. It was a great season. No one can take the outright Big Ten championship away from us. No one has regrets here.\"

\r\n

\r\nFoster said simply reaching the NCAA Tournament was a thrill in and of itself.

\r\n

\r\n\"It meant a lot,\" Foster said. \"Every college basketball player plays this game to get to the NCAA Tournament. We did a good job of playing together to get to this point.

\r\n

\r\n\"We accomplished a lot of things this season. Before the year started, nobody gave us any credit. We won the Big Ten championship outright. We were the only ones who believed in ourselves.\"

\r\n

\r\nDials willed OSU to the Big Ten championship with his play down the stretch.

\r\n

\r\n\"As a whole, I think we had a great run and a great season,\" he said after a 19-point effort in his final college game. \"You can't dwell on this one loss.\"

\r\n

\r\nSullinger noted OSU's inconsistent shooting over the final eight games, when the Buckeyes never reached the 45 percent mark from the floor and went 6-2.

\r\n

\r\n\"We didn't shoot the ball extremely well down the stretch,\" he said. \"We were a team that shot the ball well from the perimeter early on. We had not been hitting our shots a lot lately.

\r\n

\r\n\"No one ever gave us any credit. We were always underdogs even when we weren't supposed to be. This team has a lot to be proud of. Ohio State basketball is back. I'm just proud to say I was part of the group that helped this program get back into the NCAA.

\r\n

\r\n\"Right now, I'm just happy to say I was a part of something that was as special as this. This team went through a lot on and off the court. We tried so hard and we worked so hard. This team was my family away from home. I'm going to miss them so much. It's hard.\"

\r\n

\r\nLooking Forward

\r\n

\r\nSix scholarship players are due to return in 2006-07. They would be joined by a five-man recruiting class ranked as the nation's No. 2 class behind only North Carolina.

\r\n

\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
 \r\n
The top returning player would be Jamar Butler, who came into his own as a point guard as a sophomore. Following the loss on Sunday, Butler was asked when he would start thinking about next season.

\r\n

\r\n\"Right now. I'm thinking about next year right now,\" Butler said. \"I'm off classes this week and as soon as we start classes I am going to go right back to work and try to improve my game. I can't wait for those freshmen to get here.

\r\n

\r\n\"We're going to have a young team next year. We're going to be really young. But I am just going to have to step up and lead that group.\"

\r\n

\r\nAnother key piece in the puzzle will be guard Ron Lewis, the team's sixth man this past year. Lewis transferred in from Bowling Green and he said the move was worth sitting out a season.

\r\n

\r\n\"It was everything I hoped it would be and even more,\" he said. \"No one expected us to do anything, but we did. It was just a great season. I am looking forward to next season and doing the same thing.\"

\r\n

\r\nLike Butler, Lewis figures to be a leader in 2006-07.

\r\n

\r\n\"If you have a positive, you have to try and build on that positive,\" he said. \"That's what I am going to try and do. I am going to work hard on my game and try and get everybody else to work that hard as well.\"

\r\n

\r\nAlso due back would be senior-to-be forward Ivan Harris, senior-to-be guard Sylvester Mayes, junior-to-be center Matt Terwilliger and sophomore-to-be forward Brayden Bell.

\r\n

\r\n\"We're going to take some time and rest,\" Matta said. \"We have four guys playing for state high school championships this coming season and I hope they finish that off. We'll come back after spring break and get ready to start building again. That's the beauty of what I love to do in coaching. Put all the pieces together and go in the right direction.

\r\n

\r\n\"We'll start the weight training and then we have skill instruction for two hours a week. That will mainly be ballhandling, shooting and offense stuff.\"

\r\n

\r\nThe recruiting class is headlined by 7-0 center Greg Oden, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. He is joined by his Indianapolis Lawrence North teammate and point guard Mike Conley. They will play for a third straight Indiana Class 4A state title on Saturday.

\r\n

\r\nTwo more OSU signees will play for Ohio state championships as Dayton Dunbar guard Daequan Cook and his team chase the Division II crown and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph's David Lighty and his squad will play for the Division III title this weekend at Value City Arena.

\r\n

\r\n\"It's great having Dave and Daequan coming in and playing in The Schott,\" Matta said.

\r\n

\r\nAlso in this class is 6-9 junior college transfer Othello Hunter, who could compete for minutes right away at power forward.

\r\n

\r\n\"He's in the running for the player of the year in the state of Florida,\" Hunter said. \"He averaged a double-double.\"

\r\n

\r\nThe Buckeyes have several nonconference games locked up already for next year, including a much ballyhooed date against instate rival Cincinnati on Dec. 16 at Indianapolis. It would be the first meeting between the schools since the 1962 national championship game.

\r\n

\r\nThere have been reports noting that Ohio State may host games with Iowa State, Coppin State, Youngstown State and San Francisco, among others, and that the Buckeyes could make a cross-country visit to UCLA in December. Due to scheduling conflicts at VCA and television commitments, it is unlikely the final schedule for next year will be released before late July.

\r\n

\r\nBut, regardless of who OSU is playing, Matta likes what he sees.

\r\n

\r\n\"I think Ohio State basketball is definitely headed in the right direction,\" he said.

\r\n

\r\nCharting The Buckeyes

\r\n

\r\nOutgoing Seniors

\r\n

\r\n* Terence Dials, 6-9, C -- Led team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg); solid as a rock down the stretch.

\r\n

\r\n* Je'Kel Foster, 6-2, G -- Next in scoring at 12.2 ppg despite pronounced late-season shooting slump; heart and soul type player who never quit.

\r\n

\r\n* J.J. Sullinger, 6-5, G -- Fifth-year senior who transferred in from Arkansas; averaged 10.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg; a real warrior who elevated his game down the stretch.

\r\n

\r\n* Matt Sylvester, 6-7, F -- Back problems limited his effectiveness as a senior; averaged 7.4 ppg.

\r\n

\r\nReturning Players (Class listed for next year)

\r\n

\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
 \r\n
* Ron Lewis, 6-3, G, Sr. --
Pleasant surprise as athletic sixth man; averaged 11.2 ppg.

\r\n

\r\n* Jamar Butler, 6-1, G, Jr. -- Blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best point guards; was second in the Big Ten in assists-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.72); averaged 10.1 ppg and 4.6 assists per game; hit a team-high 41.4 percent of his three-point shots.

\r\n

\r\n* Sylvester Mayes, 6-0, G, Sr. -- Played in 20 games, but only one over the final month for reasons unclear; quick guard who averaged 4.2 ppg.

\r\n

\r\n* Ivan Harris, 6-7, F, Sr. -- Nicknamed the Microwave for providing instant offense off the bench; averaged 3.6 points per game; known mostly for three-point shooting (35.1 percent), but would be well served to improve his handle, defense and rebounding before next year.

\r\n

\r\n* Matt Terwilliger, 6-8, F-C, Jr. -- Missed time late in the year after an appendectomy; served as Dials' primary backup; averaged 2.3 points in 27 games; played well in some stretches; just needs to keep working and getting better.

\r\n

\r\n* Brayden Bell, 6-8, F-C, So. -- Only played in seven games; might have been well served by a redshirt year (and could still do that next year); skillful player with good range for a big guy.

\r\n

\r\n* Samuel Payne, 6-2, G, So. -- Walk-on added to the team in December; played in six games.

\r\n

\r\nThe Newcomers

\r\n

\r\n* Greg Oden, 7-0, C -- The nation's No. 1 overall prospect and likely repeat winner of USA Today national player of the year honors; shot blocking presence with great athletic ability and above average offensive skills. Averaged 22.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior; also hit over 70 percent of his shots from the floor.

\r\n

\r\n* Mike Conley, 6-1, G -- Ranked as the nation's 25th-best prospect; great point guard who is heart and soul of Lawrence North's title teams. Averaged 17.0 ppg and 4.4 apg as a senior.

\r\n

\r\n* Daequan Cook, 6-5, G -- Averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists as a senior in leading Dayton Dunbar back to the Division II state final four. A do-it-all guard who can take over a game when he wants to.

\r\n

\r\n* David Lighty, 6-5, G -- Averaged 20.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists as a senior in leading Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph to the Division III state final four. Rebounded nicely from knee injury suffered late last year and could be an explosive scorer and play maker at the college level.

\r\n

\r\n* Othello Hunter, 6-9, F -- Will transfer in from Hillsborough Community College in Florida; would have two years left; averaged 16.9 ppg and 11.0 rpg in his second year at Hillsborough; figures in as a power forward at the college level.

\r\n

\r\nVerbal Commitments

\r\n

\r\n* Class of 2007 -- OSU has one commitment from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, G Jon Diebler. Barring a spring signing this year, OSU could take as many as five players in this class or bank scholarships for 2008.

\r\n

\r\n* Class of 2008 -- OSU has verbal commitments from Canal Winchester Harvest Prep center B.J. Mullens and Indianapolis Warren Central guard Walter Offutt.

\r\n

\r\n","mobileBody":"Even if it did not necessarily end on a high note, Ohio State's 2005-06 men's basketball season was certainly a special one.

The Buckeyes saw their season come to an unceremonious end Sunday when, playing as the two seed in the NCAA Minneapolis Region, they were upset by seventh-seeded Georgetown 70-52. Even worse, the humbling defeat was somewhat on home turf as OSU played its first- and second-round NCAA games just one hour from campus at the University of Dayton.

But the plus side was this was a team that went 26-6, tying for the third most wins in a single season in school history. And this senior-laden team – picked for the middle of the pack in the Big Ten -- captured the school's first outright conference championship in 14 years.

\"This team never lost two games in a row,\" said OSU coach Thad Matta, who boasts a two-year mark of 46-18 with the Buckeyes. \"They put together some incredible win streaks. It's hard to believe it's over. Coaching this team, it feels like it's still October because it has been so much fun. It was unfortunate for it to end the way that it did. But all good things do come to an end.

\"For this team to accomplish what they did and go 26-6 and win the Big Ten championship, it was a great accomplishment. I've never seen a basketball team play harder.\"

The Buckeyes were led by 6-9 center Terence Dials, the Big Ten player of the year, as well as his three fellow senior captains, Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester.

\"I think with Terence, Matt, James and Je'Kel, what they've given us the last two years and the leadership they have provided and the focus they had for what we were doing, I hope they will never be forgotten at The Ohio State University because they deserve a ton of credit for what they've done,\" Matta said.

Nobody connected to the program was happy with the final game, which was OSU's most lopsided NCAA defeat ever.

\"I said to (Georgetown coach John) Thompson (III) – we walked out of the arena together – I said, ‘If you guys play like that, I think you can win the whole thing.' He said, ‘I think you're right,' \" Matta said.

\"Throughout the course of the season, we could always find a way to slow a team down or speed ourselves up maybe and score some points. But in that game there wasn't a lot that we could get done, and that was a credit to them.\"

OSU's loss was the crowning blow as the Big Ten – the nation's top-ranked conference in RPI during the regular season – failed to advance a team to the Sweet 16 round for the first time since 1996.

\"It's something for people to talk about,\" Matta said. \"As you go through the season, that's where the work is. I was at a roundtable a few years ago with John Wooden and he was asked what he disliked the most about today's game. He said, ‘People put too much stock in your last game.' I would agree with that because it's the journey.

\"It's 32 games. It's the whole season because there is only going to be one winner.\"

Following the loss, we had a chance to speak with a number of the outgoing seniors for their take on the season.

\"This was a year of overachieving,\" Sylvester said. \"It was a year of making bonds that will last forever. We've had our ups and downs, like every team has. But nobody in this room has anything to be ashamed of. I love Thad and this staff. It was a great season. No one can take the outright Big Ten championship away from us. No one has regrets here.\"

Foster said simply reaching the NCAA Tournament was a thrill in and of itself.

\"It meant a lot,\" Foster said. \"Every college basketball player plays this game to get to the NCAA Tournament. We did a good job of playing together to get to this point.

\"We accomplished a lot of things this season. Before the year started, nobody gave us any credit. We won the Big Ten championship outright. We were the only ones who believed in ourselves.\"

Dials willed OSU to the Big Ten championship with his play down the stretch.

\"As a whole, I think we had a great run and a great season,\" he said after a 19-point effort in his final college game. \"You can't dwell on this one loss.\"

Sullinger noted OSU's inconsistent shooting over the final eight games, when the Buckeyes never reached the 45 percent mark from the floor and went 6-2.

\"We didn't shoot the ball extremely well down the stretch,\" he said. \"We were a team that shot the ball well from the perimeter early on. We had not been hitting our shots a lot lately.

\"No one ever gave us any credit. We were always underdogs even when we weren't supposed to be. This team has a lot to be proud of. Ohio State basketball is back. I'm just proud to say I was part of the group that helped this program get back into the NCAA.

\"Right now, I'm just happy to say I was a part of something that was as special as this. This team went through a lot on and off the court. We tried so hard and we worked so hard. This team was my family away from home. I'm going to miss them so much. It's hard.\"

Six scholarship players are due to return in 2006-07. They would be joined by a five-man recruiting class ranked as the nation's No. 2 class behind only North Carolina.

The top returning player would be Jamar Butler, who came into his own as a point guard as a sophomore. Following the loss on Sunday, Butler was asked when he would start thinking about next season.

\"Right now. I'm thinking about next year right now,\" Butler said. \"I'm off classes this week and as soon as we start classes I am going to go right back to work and try to improve my game. I can't wait for those freshmen to get here.

\"We're going to have a young team next year. We're going to be really young. But I am just going to have to step up and lead that group.\"

Another key piece in the puzzle will be guard Ron Lewis, the team's sixth man this past year. Lewis transferred in from Bowling Green and he said the move was worth sitting out a season.

\"It was everything I hoped it would be and even more,\" he said. \"No one expected us to do anything, but we did. It was just a great season. I am looking forward to next season and doing the same thing.\"

Like Butler, Lewis figures to be a leader in 2006-07.

\"If you have a positive, you have to try and build on that positive,\" he said. \"That's what I am going to try and do. I am going to work hard on my game and try and get everybody else to work that hard as well.\"

Also due back would be senior-to-be forward Ivan Harris, senior-to-be guard Sylvester Mayes, junior-to-be center Matt Terwilliger and sophomore-to-be forward Brayden Bell.

\"We're going to take some time and rest,\" Matta said. \"We have four guys playing for state high school championships this coming season and I hope they finish that off. We'll come back after spring break and get ready to start building again. That's the beauty of what I love to do in coaching. Put all the pieces together and go in the right direction.

\"We'll start the weight training and then we have skill instruction for two hours a week. That will mainly be ballhandling, shooting and offense stuff.\"

The recruiting class is headlined by 7-0 center Greg Oden, the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. He is joined by his Indianapolis Lawrence North teammate and point guard Mike Conley. They will play for a third straight Indiana Class 4A state title on Saturday.

Two more OSU signees will play for Ohio state championships as Dayton Dunbar guard Daequan Cook and his team chase the Division II crown and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph's David Lighty and his squad will play for the Division III title this weekend at Value City Arena.

\"It's great having Dave and Daequan coming in and playing in The Schott,\" Matta said.

Also in this class is 6-9 junior college transfer Othello Hunter, who could compete for minutes right away at power forward.

\"He's in the running for the player of the year in the state of Florida,\" Hunter said. \"He averaged a double-double.\"

The Buckeyes have several nonconference games locked up already for next year, including a much ballyhooed date against instate rival Cincinnati on Dec. 16 at Indianapolis. It would be the first meeting between the schools since the 1962 national championship game.

There have been reports noting that Ohio State may host games with Iowa State, Coppin State, Youngstown State and San Francisco, among others, and that the Buckeyes could make a cross-country visit to UCLA in December. Due to scheduling conflicts at VCA and television commitments, it is unlikely the final schedule for next year will be released before late July.

But, regardless of who OSU is playing, Matta likes what he sees.

\"I think Ohio State basketball is definitely headed in the right direction,\" he said.

Led team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg); solid as a rock down the stretch.

Next in scoring at 12.2 ppg despite pronounced late-season shooting slump; heart and soul type player who never quit.

Fifth-year senior who transferred in from Arkansas; averaged 10.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg; a real warrior who elevated his game down the stretch.

Back problems limited his effectiveness as a senior; averaged 7.4 ppg.

Pleasant surprise as athletic sixth man; averaged 11.2 ppg.

Blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best point guards; was second in the Big Ten in assists-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.72); averaged 10.1 ppg and 4.6 assists per game; hit a team-high 41.4 percent of his three-point shots.

Played in 20 games, but only one over the final month for reasons unclear; quick guard who averaged 4.2 ppg.

Nicknamed the Microwave for providing instant offense off the bench; averaged 3.6 points per game; known mostly for three-point shooting (35.1 percent), but would be well served to improve his handle, defense and rebounding before next year.

Missed time late in the year after an appendectomy; served as Dials' primary backup; averaged 2.3 points in 27 games; played well in some stretches; just needs to keep working and getting better.

Only played in seven games; might have been well served by a redshirt year (and could still do that next year); skillful player with good range for a big guy.

Walk-on added to the team in December; played in six games.

The nation's No. 1 overall prospect and likely repeat winner of USA Today national player of the year honors; shot blocking presence with great athletic ability and above average offensive skills. Averaged 22.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior; also hit over 70 percent of his shots from the floor.

Ranked as the nation's 25th-best prospect; great point guard who is heart and soul of Lawrence North's title teams. Averaged 17.0 ppg and 4.4 apg as a senior.

Averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists as a senior in leading Dayton Dunbar back to the Division II state final four. A do-it-all guard who can take over a game when he wants to.

Averaged 20.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists as a senior in leading Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph to the Division III state final four. Rebounded nicely from knee injury suffered late last year and could be an explosive scorer and play maker at the college level.

Will transfer in from Hillsborough Community College in Florida; would have two years left; averaged 16.9 ppg and 11.0 rpg in his second year at Hillsborough; figures in as a power forward at the college level.

OSU has one commitment from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, G Jon Diebler. Barring a spring signing this year, OSU could take as many as five players in this class or bank scholarships for 2008.

OSU has verbal commitments from Canal Winchester Harvest Prep center B.J. Mullens and Indianapolis Warren Central guard Walter Offutt.

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