Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Ohio State men’s basketball assistant coach Jeff Boals must be quite flattered.
Donning suits and Boals’ signature glasses, OSU students Michael Falcon and Corey Olson, nicknamed the “Boals Brothers,” loom behind Boals and the Buckeyes’ bench during each home game.
“It’s kind of a humbling, creepy thing,” Boals said. “It’s all in good humor, though. I don’t know why they selected me.”
Falcon, a third-year in finance, said Boals deserved the tribute after NutHouse student section leaders distributed pictures of coach Thad Matta’s head, on a wooden stick, to students.
“We’ve always been fans of coach Boals and his enthusiasm during games,” Falcon said. “We dress up as coaches because it keeps the players loose, because it’s funny. At the same time, we keep them focused because we are coaches.”
Falcon also said he and Olson, a fourth-year in marketing and logistics management, follow Boals on Twitter.
Boals has more than 2,400 Twitter followers, and said he didn’t know what it was when he signed up for it.
“I didn’t really start using it until, probably, when everyone else started using it,” Boals said. “I know there’s a lot of Ohio State people who follow what I put on there, so I try to throw a couple nuggets out there to make it interesting.”
Boals didn’t always have that kind of following. He grew up in Magnolia, Ohio, a town outside of Canton, with a population of fewer than 1,000 people.
After graduating from Sandy Valley High School, Boals played basketball at Ohio University, where he was a team captain for two years.
Twenty games into the 1994-95 season, his senior year at Ohio, Boals blew out his knee.
“It was the third torn ACL that I had,” Boals said. “It pretty much ended my career.”
After riding out the season injured and on the bench, Boals got an offer from his coach that he couldn’t turn down.
“(Coach) Larry Hunter asked me if I’d be interested in joining his staff because he had a guy that was leaving,” Boals said. “Like most kids when they graduate, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I was like, ‘Sure, why not?'”
Beginning with the 1995-96 season, Boals was part of Hunter’s staff. He said Hunter saw leadership qualities in him that made him a good fit as a coach.
“I was a cerebral, vocal guy on the team and wasn’t overly athletic,” Boals said. “I had to do all the ‘little things’ — block out, set screens — and I tried to use my knowledge of the game to be the leader of the team.”
Hunter could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, Boals formed a loose connection with Matta, who was an assistant at Miami (Ohio), an in-conference foe during Boals’ playing days.
“I would see him on the road recruiting, too,” Boals said, “but it’s not like I’d go over and talk to him all the time.”
After former OSU assistant Archie Miller left to join his brother, Sean, at Arizona, there was an opening on Matta’s staff in 2009.
In Boals’ previous four destinations — Division II’s University of Charleston, Marshall, Robert Morris and Akron — he hadn’t worked under Matta. Still, Matta called Boals, and filled the void in his coaching staff.
Though they hadn’t worked together, Boals said their personalities meshed well.
“It’s probably the best staff I’ve ever been on, in the sense of chemistry,” he said. “Thad’s not a micromanager, either. He gives you the freedom to coach.”
Boals also has a good relationship with his players, forward David Lighty said. In a press conference Wednesday, the fifth-year senior said Boals periodically sends text messages to players, and interacts with them on Twitter.
“He thinks he’s on the team,” Lighty said. “That’s the great thing about him, though. His interaction with us is always continuing to go on throughout the night.”
The next path Boals, who has a wife and two kids, takes might be one as a Division I head coach. In Matta’s 10 seasons as a head coach, five of his assistants have become head coaches.
“I haven’t thought about it, as far as when it’s going to happen, but that’s my ultimate goal, to be a Division I head coach,” Boals said. “Obviously, I feel like I’m in a great situation at Ohio State and it would have to be a really special situation for me to leave here.”