Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
Ohio State senior guard Jon Diebler arrived on campus four years ago with a reputation.
Diebler’s 3,208 points in high school still stand as the all-time record for Ohio. His 41 points per game as a high school senior led the nation. A year prior, as a junior, Diebler scored 77 points in a single game, and as a sophomore he led his team to a 27-0 record and a Division II State Championship.
Put simply, everyone knew Diebler could shoot the basketball. So it should come as no surprise that perhaps the most prolific scorer in Ohio high school history, and currently the starting shooting guard on the nation’s No. 1 college team, is closing in on the Big Ten record for 3-pointers made in a career.
Despite all he had accomplished before coming to Columbus, there was a time when Diebler’s future might have seemed dim.
As a freshman at OSU, he was not nearly the scorer many expected him to be. Diebler averaged just six points in his 21 minutes per game, and his frigid 29 percent from beyond the 3-point line had many Buckeye fans wondering whether he could live up to the hype.
OSU coach Thad Matta, however, never lost confidence.
“I’ve always had great faith in Jon,” Matta said. “I think, at times, I was the only one that had great faith in Jon, including himself.”
His faith was well-deserved.
Diebler has been a staple in the Buckeyes’ starting lineup for the past three seasons and has averaged a team-high 34 minutes in OSU’s 24 games this season. His 49 percent from the field is tied for second on the team, and his 47 percent from behind the 3-point line is a team high. It’s easy to see how far he’s come since his struggles as a freshman.
“You have to have a certain confidence about yourself,” Diebler said. “I think that’s where I’ve grown the most. I’ve become a lot more confident, not only shooting the ball but developing my game as an overall player.”
Fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, who was a sophomore when Diebler arrived at OSU, has witnessed firsthand his teammate’s evolution. Save the games Lighty missed in the 2008–09 season because of injury, both he and Diebler have started alongside each other in nearly every game for the past three years.
Lighty said that, while he always knew Diebler was a great shooter, he has seen the other facets of his game develop over time. And as the two have spent so much time together, he and Diebler have become great friends.
“He was going to come in and score 50 points a game, like in high school,” Lighty said of his first impression of Diebler four years ago. “It just shows how he worked so hard on, not just shooting, but everything else that a basketball player needs to do. He’s a great guy, on and off the court, and been one of my best friends since I’ve been here.”
But while both Diebler and Lighty are quick to mention how well-rounded a player Diebler has become, it’s no secret what his biggest strength is. Diebler’s 328 career 3-pointers are the most in school history and leave him just four shy of tying the Big Ten’s all-time record.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of great players in my four years here, and I think that helps a lot because I get a lot of open looks,” Diebler said. “I honestly had no idea I was close (to the record) until it was mentioned to me this year sometime. I mean, I never even thought of it.”
The nation’s No. 1 and only undefeated team, the Buckeyes will spend the next two months competing for what would be the school’s first National Championship in more than 50 years. Although Diebler humbly deflects any praise from himself, at least one person isn’t shy about giving him his due credit — his coach.
“I watched his work ethic from the day he walked in here, and I can remember when things maybe didn’t go well for him his freshman year in a particular game,” Matta said. “I would talk to the team after the game and he was so focused on me, and all he cared about was winning. I knew that if he kept that mindset and he continued to work at the level that I knew he was going to work at, he was going to be the player that he is today.”