Lauderdale, Buckeyes Ready To Tip Off

Tonight marks the official beginning for the 2008-09 Ohio State men's basketball season. Not only that, but it marks a return to action of sorts for sophomore power forward Dallas Lauderdale, who will man the paint for the Buckeyes after suffering a shoulder injury at the beginning of the month.

This evening, the Ohio State men's basketball team will take the court at historic St. John Arena to officially begin the 2008-09 season.

As the Buckeyes play in their arena of the past, they will have a big part of their future in uniform and ready for action. Sophomore power forward Dallas Lauderdale, projected to be a crucial part of the OSU attack this season, will return to action after suffering a shoulder injury nearly three weeks ago.

His addition opens up a whole realm of possibilities for head coach Thad Matta, who is glad to see the sophomore back in uniform.

"Had the injury not occurred, he was playing himself into a bona fide rotation guy, a dependable guy that we would be counting on," Matta said. "Not that the injury has changed my opinion of that. He's been good the last two days of doing what he needed to do. I think his minutes should be pretty substantial."

Lauderdale first sustained the injury while playing in a closed scrimmage Nov. 2 against Miami (Ohio). He did not take part in the team's lone exhibition game Nov. 12 against NAIA Division II foe Walsh, but Lauderdale returned to practice Nov. 17.

The following day, he took on a more pronounced role in practice and Matta pronounced Lauderdale ready to go. Listed at 6-8, 255 pounds in the team's media guide, Lauderdale figures to be a major factor for the Buckeyes this season.

Although OSU has a full roster for the first time during Matta's tenure in Columbus, they are thin in the frontcourt. Freshman center B.J. Mullens is projected to be a dominant player, but the Buckeyes have few options in the paint aside from he and Lauderdale.

Junior center Kyle Madsen contributed 11 points in extended action against Walsh, but Lauderdale's absence means junior swingman David Lighty often has to man the power forward spot as OSU employs a four-guard set.

Lauderdale's return to the lineup helps create more room for wing players like sophomore Evan Turner to create with the ball in their hands.

"I think it opens up a lot of things in the paint," Turner said. "There's opportunities to shoot as well. If we throw it in and they can kick if back out. I think we have a lot of positive roles there."

Lauderdale also provides another power option at the center spot in place of Mullens.

At first glance, expecting Lauderdale to be a major contributor based on his production a season ago seems like a stretch. Nothing more than a bit player for a team that captured the Postseason NIT crowd, Lauderdale saw action in 32 games and averaged 1.8 rebounds and 0.9 points per game.

When OSU reported for camp, though, his teammates unanimously praised Lauderdale's improvement from one season ago. Now quicker and slimmer, he claimed to have lost 8.9 percent body fat and dropped nearly 20 pounds in the offseason.

He is so healthy now that Matta said Lauderdale told him he would be able to play all 40 minutes against Delaware State (6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) if necessary.

"If he's in the game, he's going to be effective, especially on the defensive end for us because he's so intimidating down there with his long wingspan and leaping ability," Lighty said. "I don't know about 40 minutes for him. He might be a little out of shape for that one from not practicing."

Matta said he has noticed two key improvements in Lauderdale's game: he has grown in his understanding of the game and he has greatly improved his conditioning.

"I think that his skill level has developed more," he said. "He's looked and said maybe I didn't play a ton last year, but I was here and I have to provide as much as I can in forms of leadership, guidance, those areas. He's done a very good job with that."

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