Thad Matta's hopes of a frontline standing a combined 14-foot tall are now officially dashed. That's the bad news.
But if there's a glimmering light at the end of the tunnel, it's that he won't be woefully short on scholarship players next season.
Rumors of a possible transfer from 6-5 freshman Jon Diebler aside, Ohio State's men's basketball team is now getting some clarity for the 2008-09 campaign. Steve Schmidt, head coach of Mott Community College confirmed to BuckeyeSports.com's Adam Jardy Thursday evening that his leading scorer, 6-2 guard Jeremie Simmons, was indeed signing a letter of intent with Ohio State today. This comes at the same time where Eastern Arizona College head coach Tim Walsh confirmed with the Columbus Dispatch that 6-9 power forward Nicola Kecman intended to also sign paperwork today for the Buckeyes.
The signing of Simmons and Kecman compensate for the departures of a pair of freshmen – 7-1 Kosta Koufos and 6-7 Eric Wallace. Koufos declared for the NBA draft a little over a week ago, but left open the possibility of a return to Ohio State by saying he would not retain or sign with an agent. However, earlier this week, Koufos slammed that door shut by saying he instead would gain representation. Wallace announced his intentions to transfer after playing less than five minutes per game.
Barring the departure of Diebler, who's had rumors swirling of the possibility he's considered leaving the program as well, Matta will now have 11 scholarship players this season at his disposal. He had hoped to play Koufos and incoming 7-footer B.J. Mullens, a McDonald's All-American, on the court at the same time.
As for Diebler, attempts to reach his father Keith have gone unsuccessful the past few days. Internet rumors have surfaced the past several weeks that he had reservations about his place in the program and was contemplating leaving.
Diebler is the all-time leading scorer in the state of Ohio after being a four-year starter for his father at Fostoria (his freshman year) and three years at Upper Sandusky High School. His lofty expectations created some disappointment this past season among fans by shooting just 29 percent from 3-point range, though Diebler showed several flashes throughout the season averaging 5.9 points in about 21 minutes per game.
Should Diebler elect to remain at Ohio State, or the rumors prove to be just that – unconfirmed speculation, the Buckeyes finally have a bit more of an identity for the upcoming season.
PRELIMINARY 2008-09 OUTLOOK
Interestingly enough, over a third of this year's roster will be comprised of players that could be battling over the point guard position.
Junior-to-be P.J. Hill, junior college transfer Simmons and incoming freshmen Anthony Crater and Walter Offutt all figure to be involved in the open competition. Hill may be the wildcard in the equation.
A sophomore JUCO himself, Hill never fully established himself as a bona fide scoring threat this season. Having ample opportunities to spell minutes for senior Jamar Butler, Hill lacked confidence to attempt perimeter jumpers and rarely asserted himself off the dribble. However, given his athleticism and energy, Hill could still be a factor in the upcoming plans with an improved jumper and better handle over the summer.
Back in November, Crater signed a letter of intent with the Buckeyes as an afterthought to some, finding a new home in New Hampshire at a successful preparatory program. He completed a senior season away from his home in Flint, Mich., by scoring a modest six points per game but contributed around eight assists a contest.
When Crater, now the No. 8-ranked point guard in the 2008 recruiting class by ScoutHoops.com committed to the Buckeyes more than a year ago, he was a top-30 talent and expected to be brought along slowly his first season alongside Mike Conley Jr. However, Crater's stock dipped this past summer and Conley wound up leaving Ohio State after just one season – increasing the pressure on Crater to step in immediately next season for the Buckeyes.
If Crater, who's known for his passing and pesky defense, is unable to step up to the challenge, perhaps Offutt can answer the bell.
Offutt is considered a major longshot, simply because of two separate ACL injuries in the past three years. However, when healthy, Offutt is a solid ball-handler and a terrific athlete.
A combo guard, Offutt is an attentive passer and very quick off the dribble. His ability to play above the rim is what first impressed Matta during his freshman year, quickly earning a scholarship offer. But with Offutt's outside shot still developing, he may be a wildcard to step in and play meaningful minutes immediately.
The fourth option is perhaps the most intriguing.
Simmons was an all-city selection during his senior year at notorious power Von Steuben High School in Chicago. This past season, Simmons led Mott to a D-2 NJCAA National Championship, scoring over 21 points and nearly five assists per game. Schmidt, his coach, praises Simmons' athleticism and play-making ability.
"I've coached a lot of players in my 17 years and he is very crafty and skilled with the basketball," Schmidt told BuckeyeSports.com Thursday. "That's an area where I think he can step in and help run the Buckeyes."
Known for getting to the rim, Simmons is also a solid outside shooter – something the Buckeyes sorely lacked this past season beyond spurts from Butler. He chose Ohio State over Alabama, Dayton, South Florida and others.
If nothing else, backcourt scoring shouldn't be an issue for the Buckeyes this season.
Returning sophomore Evan Turner (8.5 PPG) will join junior David Lighty (9.0 PPG) and incoming McDonald's All-American William Buford as potentially one of the most athletic, talented wing tandems in the Big Ten, if not America. Lighty once again stepped up his production toward the end of OSU's N.I.T. Championship run. Throw in Buford, who's a sweet-shooting threat to get to the rim and Simmons, a skilled athlete, and suddenly Ohio State will be quicker than many of their opponents.
Perhaps the biggest key for Ohio State, however, remains Diebler.
Diebler could still become a feared, consistent shooter at some point despite his early struggles. Ohio State fans are reminded that Butler, a 40 percent shooter this past season, hit just 23 percent of his shots as a freshman. Purdue head coach Matt Painter said earlier this past season that he felt Diebler, before his career was over, could become one of the top 3-point threats in the country.
The emergence of Diebler could give Ohio State the outside scoring threat it needs along with several guys that can beat defenders off the dribble. Further, by Diebler making an impact, the Buckeyes can afford to play Lighty as a smaller power forward option, giving them essentially a four-guard lineup.
Still, in addition to the questions at point guard, shooting and rebounding could still prove to be key issues next season. Until Diebler, Turner and Lighty can consistently hit from outside and Simmons and Buford can carry over their perimeter numbers to this level, the Buckeyes are left without an established outside threat.
The addition of a 6-9 power forward cannot be construed as a negative in any capacity, but Kecman will still help the Buckeyes more on the perimeter than anything else.
Averaging just over three rebounds per game this past season, Kecman will remind Ohio State more of Ivan Harris than Othello Hunter – a tall body with a soft shooting touch. But since the Buckeyes need shooters, they'll take it.
Kecman has the ability to see instantaneous minutes at the four. With just Mullens, sophomore Dallas Lauderdale and junior Kyle Madsen left inside, Kecman could see 25 minutes per game if his talent lives up to billing.
The Buckeyes are sure to be set in the post.
Mullens is a true low-post scoring threat with several go-to moves and the ability to step outside and hit open jump shots. Perhaps offensively, Mullens is more advanced and polished than was Greg Oden when the 7-footer arrived on campus. Defensively, Mullens is adequate, though must continue to learn to be aggressive but patient at the same time.
When the time comes Mullens needs a break or gets in foul trouble, he has a more than adequate replacement.
Lauderdale, a 6-9 big-bodied brute showed enormous potential late in the 2007-08 season. Though he's far advanced defensively to his offensive skills, Lauderdale's size, strength and wingspan gives him potential to blossom as a low-post scorer.
If Lauderdale can improve his perimeter skills, or at very least, become quick enough to defend away from the basket, it's possible the Buckeyes can occasionally play with a two-post attack. This would certainly help in the rebounding department.
At this point, anything Madsen could add would be a bonus.
The former Dublin Coffman standout transferred to Ohio State from Vanderbilt. He's mostly comfortable shooting from 15 to 18 feet, though added strength and toughness could give him an opportunity to play this season. Ohio State won't be lacking in size this year (four guys over 6-9), though only half of them play bigger than 6-6.