Spring Work Brings Winter Results

For fans, the improvement of a player from one season to the next can be a remarkable sight. For the coaching staff, however, that progress is witnessed on a day-to-day basis that begins during spring skill sessions. Find out what Ohio State has been up to and how the coaching staff hopes to improve on last season exclusively here on BuckeyeSports.com.

Four games into the 2008-09 season, head coach Thad Matta found himself trying to explain how his young, unranked team had just knocked off Miami (Fla.). With another game against a nationally ranked foe looming on the horizon, the Ohio State men's basketball coach had one theory.

"We had a great spring with our players," he said Dec. 5. "That's an eight-week period when we really get to work with them."

Once the Buckeyes finish their season, they begin a spring skill session period that lasts until spring quarter is complete. Rather than preparing for a specific foe, the focus instead is on individual improvement.

No more than four scholarship players are allowed into the gym at one time, and each player is restricted to two hours' worth of supervised workouts during the week. It breaks down to three 40-minute sessions for each member of the roster. The players are divided into three groups: point guards, wings and post players. Workouts for the first two groups are often similar, and players from one group can cross over into the other. Each assistant coach is charged with running one of the groups.

If a player wants to make significant progress in his own game, now is the time.

"I think you tend to (grow) more during this time of the year because the focus during the season is on team improvement, the direction of the group," assistant coach Alan Major told BuckeyeSports.com. "This is more the direction of the individual."

Take Evan Turner for example. As a sophomore, he brought home first-team all-Big Ten honors and led the Buckeyes in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists while developing into a potential NBA player. Early during the season, however, he credited the work put in during the spring of his freshman year for the maturation he demonstrated on the court during the season.

His experiences as a freshman – when he averaged 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds – coupled with the work he put in during the spring helped springboard him into the sophomore season he enjoyed, Major said. The same went for classmates Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale.

"Once you've gone through it you say, ‘OK, I've been through a cycle' and it becomes clear by that springtime what you have to get better at," Major said. "I think that's the biggest thing that happened with those guys is it wasn't anything that anybody could rush. They just had to go through a season and see what it was like. You come out of that freshman year, it's usually a lot clearer what direction you need to take your game from that point."

Point guard P.J. Hill is another example of a player who improved his stock last spring. Although it took a transfer to get him into the regular playing rotation, Hill wound up starting the final eight games of the season – a fact Matta attributed to Hill's development during spring skill sessions.

Simply having time to work one-on-one with players helps bring around positive results, Major said.

"During the season you try to get a guy 20 minutes before or after practice and get him in his rhythm and try to get him shots where he may take them in a game," he said. "In the spring, it's a little bit more position-specific. You may try to do some more all-around things, some more ball-handling and maybe you mix in a little competition and things of that nature."

For different players, the sessions can mean different things. For players such as Turner and Diebler, the focus can be on tightening their respective abilities and hoping they take another step forward in their development. For a player like David Lighty, the spring is a time for him to get back into basketball shape after missing most of the season with a fractured foot.

For a player like Zisis Sarikopoulos, it means some serious coaching time after having spent the past year unable to be with the team on road trips.

"You have to mix it in, whether it's before practice or during the day," Major said. "You try to get him in on those days or especially on a game day or before or after game day shoot-around. Since he can't play, you still want him to get a good sweat and a good workout on those days."

For each player, however, the spring results in more individualized attention than they can receive during the season. The hope is that this time period will set the standard for how far the Buckeyes will be able to go this fall.

The season is still more than five months away, but the work begins now.

"I think this spring period sets the tone for what you want guys to do for the rest of the summer as well," Major said. "In the summer, we're not allowed to be with them either. Whatever tone we set here during this eight- or nine-week period, the hope is that they carry that out until we're able to get back in the gym with them when school starts in the fall.

"We're fortunate to have kids who are coachable and try to do what you ask. Hopefully we can match the progress that we made last year and carry that into next season."

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