In his three years as Ohio State basketball coach, Thad Matta has taken the Buckeyes to the top of the Big Ten and transformed OSU into one of the coveted destinations for the nation's top players.
The Thad Five was just the beginning as the list of talented young players committed to playing basketball at OSU continues to grow along with Matta's reputation as one of the nation's top recruiters.
"He put three guys in the first round of the NBA draft last year and presently sits on another top-5 class," said Dave Telep of Scout.com. "McDonald's All-Americans are doubling in number by the year under Matta, and I think he's been nothing but a smash hit."
Matta's winning pedigree and his 81-22 record in three seasons at OSU are major factors in his recruiting success, but it takes more than victories to attract the top players. Matta isn't the only coach that wins 20-plus games a year on a consistent basis, but he has managed to separate himself and get recruits to chose OSU instead of other winning programs.
"(Matta's success) comes from a combination of the guy being a heck of a basketball coach combined with a charismatic way," Telep said. "He has the ability to hire a terrific staff and to sell his program at level that few coaches across the country have been able to in the last five years."
Chris Johnson of Hoop Scoop magazine believes Matta is such a good salesman because he has such a good product to sell.
"The good young players are about two things," Johnson said. "They want to win national championships and play in the NBA, and Matta has proven they can do both at Ohio State."
The results speak for themselves, and whatever Matta is selling, recruits are buying. He landed one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball history prior to last season, but if the current recruiting trend continues, the Thad Five might have some competition in the near future.
"There are only two scholarships currently open for the 2009 season, but 15 players ranked in the top 40 are seriously considering Ohio State," Johnson said. "That shows you what the top players think about Ohio State."
Having talented players is always important, but Matta's ability to bring in premier players is critical this season with only one starter returning from last year's team. Thanks to another group of talented newcomers, the Ohio State coach is making sure that the Buckeyes aren't rebuilding, just reloading.
The 2007 class features five freshmen along with junior college transfer P.J. Hill of Midland (Texas) Community College. Power forward Kosta Koufos of Canton (Ohio) GlenOak and shooting guard Jon Diebler of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, should take on major roles immediately, but the entire class will be crucial to the Buckeyes' success.
"I think Diebler is ready to step in and contribute as a scorer," Johnson said. "Matta likes to have a lot of offense and will look to Diebler to provide some."
The rest of incoming class includes small forwards Eric Wallace of Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy and Evan Turner of Chicago St. Joseph's as well as Solon, Ohio, center Dallas Lauderdale.
"Evan Turner will probably fill the same role that David Lighty played last year," Johnson said. "He will be the defensive stopper so to speak."
"I think Koufos is the guy and the rest are pieces of the puzzle," Telep said. "I look at the '07 class as more of a unit than individually in terms of their impact. It's kind of a bridge between a '06 class that was ridiculously talented and a '08 class that's looking along the same lines."
The 2008 class currently consists of four players, including a pair of five-star recruits in center B.J. Mullens of Canal Winchester, Ohio, and shooting guard William Buford of Toledo (Ohio) Libbey.
"I think in '08, (Matta) has a situation where he's got Mullens and Buford who can come in and crank it up another level right off the bat," Telep said.
The Buckeyes should only improve in coming seasons as talented recruits from multiple classes get the opportunity to play together.
"If Koufos stays for another season, (OSU) has the unique situation of having twin towers," Johnson said. "Mullens and Koufos can play off each other, especially with Koufos' ability to play away from the basket."
The '08 class also includes point guard Anthony "Noopy" Crater of Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy, who will also be expected to play major role immediately.
"Anthony Crater is the real key," Johnson said. "There will only be one other point guard on the roster, so (OSU) will need him to step in and play well."
Matta is assembling the pieces to make sure Ohio State remains one of the top programs in the country in the coming years, but talented players alone are not enough to cement his coaching legacy.
"Dynasties are defined by NCAA championships," Telep said.
Experts: Thad Five Just Beginning For Matta
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