Buckeyes Welcome Infusion Of New Blood

With Ron Lewis, Ivan Harris, Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook all gone, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is eager to get his new players on the court and see if they can help the Buckeyes win another Big Ten championship and go deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Although Ohio State's returning players were the ones giving interviews during media day, a lot of the questions were asked about the new additions to the roster, practicing at the other end of the gym.

Maybe the sight of freshman forward Eric Wallace repeatedly dunking from the foul line influenced their answers, but the Buckeye veterans seem to think the newcomers are more than ready to step in and contribute.

"All of them have the potential to break out and light it up for the whole game really," senior forward Matt Terwilliger said. "It's kind of where all their heads are because if they keep their confidence all of them can dominate a game."

Expecting the new additions to dominate each and every game is unrealistic, but with five freshmen, junior college transfer P.J. Hill and sophomore Kyle Madsen all seeing their first action for OSU this season, the Buckeyes' success will depend on how well the newcomers develop and perform.

"I think the No. 1 thing is keeping short-term thoughts with this team," head coach Thad Matta said. "When you're bringing in six and a half new guys – Kyle being a half because he was here last year but didn't play in the games – there are a lot of challenges you're going to face."

A retooled roster means more changes than just the names and faces of the players. The Buckeyes' style of play will also change this season to take advantage of the team's strong points.

"Our strength will probably be our athleticism," sophomore guard David Lighty said. "Everyone can run and gun pretty much. We have athletic big men and athletic wings so getting up and down the floor will be our strength. We're looking to play like the Phoenix Suns."

Lighty played the role of defensive stopper last season, and said that OSU's defensive strategy will be different this year without Greg Oden patrolling the paint. But he quickly added that the Buckeyes can still be just as effective with the new players.

"You don't have to be less aggressive," Lighty said. "You just have to be a little smarter about the time to be aggressive and go for the steal or the block. We still have a 7-footer down there (freshman Kosta Koufos) and we have Othello (Hunter) down there so I don't think a lot of people are going to want to take it to the rack still."

One player in particular has already surprised Lighty with his defensive presence.

"In open gyms, I liked P.J. on defense," he said. "He's so quick you can't get the ball on a fast break. He beat me down the court and I'm running on the wings. His speed is up there."

Lighty added that the versatility of some of the freshmen will be a huge asset on the defensive end.

"Eric has tremendous athleticism and that can always help you out," he said. "Evan (Turner) is very multitalented. He will probably have a role like I had last year, playing a lot of different positions."

Lighty wasn't the only Buckeye veteran with good things to say about Turner.

"When he carries himself, he's probably one of the best players I've ever played with here," Terwilliger said. "There's just something about him. He has that Chicago street ball experience, and when he keeps it all under control he plays really well."

The young Buckeye big men also got high reviews with Hunter emphasizing the physical presence freshman forward Dallas Lauderdale has been in open gyms.

"He's strong," Hunter said. "He has power. He can rebound, block shots and he is just tough."

Lighty also focused on freshman center Koufos' ability to stretch the defense while remaining a force in the paint.

"He kind of plays like (Dallas Mavericks forward) Dirk (Nowitzki), but more of a Dirk mixed with … I don't even know," Lighty said. "He has more of an all-around game. He is more of an all-around player."

The returning players made it clear that the new additions to the OSU roster have the talent and ability to be great players. The pieces are in place but the challenge will be getting everyone to play as a team. It is the job of the coaching staff and experienced players to make sure this year's team reaches its full potential, and it is a task Matta is looking forward to.

"I don't want to say I have great confidence today because I want to see us go through some stretches of really grinding it out and how do we respond at that time," Matta said. "For the new guys, it's a completely different world with the physicality of the college game and the speed of the college game. We've got to get them accustomed as early as we possibly can. But I like the challenge."


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