Courtesy of MCT
The NBA playoffs are in full swing and Ohio State fans looking for a reason to watch the games need look no further than the four former Buckeyes playing in them.
Former OSU basketball players Evan Turner, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Kosta Koufos are all playing in this season’s NBA playoffs.
Turner plays in the Eastern Conference as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, while Conley, Cook and Koufos are in the Western Conference playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, respectively.
All four players were recruited by and played for OSU basketball coach Thad Matta. The fact that they’re all vying for the NBA title in the same season speaks loudly of Matta and the OSU basketball program.
Conley and Cook were members of the “Thad Five” 2007 NCAA runner-up team. Koufos was named the National Invitation Tournament MVP when the Buckeyes won the tournament in 2008, and Turner became the first OSU player to win the John R. Wooden Award in 2010.
Since taking over the basketball program for the 2004-2005 season, Matta has turned the Buckeyes into perennial NCAA championship contenders and brought some of the best basketball talent to Columbus that the program has ever seen.
Taking OSU to two Final Fours (2007, 2012), Matta has won five Big Ten championships (2006, 2007 and 2010-2012) and seen seven of his players drafted into the NBA: Greg Oden (2007), Conley (2007), Cook (2007), Koufos (2008), B.J. Mullens (2009), Turner (2010) and Jon Diebler (2011).
That number will likely grow to nine after this season’s NBA draft where it’s expected that former Buckeyes Jared Sullinger and William Buford will be selected.
Not including Sullinger, projected as a first-rounder in the 2012 Draft, Matta has produced six first-round draft picks, including the only top two picks in program history with Oden (No. 1 overall) and Turner (No. 2 overall) in their respective drafts.
Matta has produced more NBA draft talent in a five-year span from 2007-2011 than Duke’s NCAA men’s all-time winningest coach Mike Krzyzewski (five draft picks), Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (five), Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun (four), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (one) and as much as North Carolina’s Roy Williams (seven).
The skill level of the players that Matta has recruited to OSU to play basketball should not be taken lightly and the NBA playoffs are simply a microcosm of the talent Matta is responsible for.
In each of the last four NBA seasons, at least two of Matta’s former Buckeyes have played on basketball’s biggest stage, and lately they’ve been making their presence felt.
In 2011, Conley helped Memphis upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, becoming only the fourth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs. He averaged 15.2 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 6.4 assists per game in the 2011 playoffs with the Grizzlies.
This season, Conley and Memphis are back in postseason play and as of Tuesday night, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists through four games in a series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Turner is attempting to match Conley’s and the Grizzlies’ feat from a season ago. Through the first four games of the series between the Sixers and the Chicago Bulls the former OSU Wooden Award winner is averaging 14.0 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game.
From 1996 to 2005, there were just four Buckeyes to play in an NBA playoff game, Jim Jackson, Lawrence Funderburke, Herb Williams, and Michael Redd. OSU has four former players, all products of Matta, in this season’s playoffs alone.
If Sullinger and Buford are selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, nine Buckeyes under Matta will have been drafted in the span of six seasons.
To put that into perspective, the previous nine OSU basketball players selected into the NBA draft span across the course of 19 drafts from 1983-2001, with only four first-round selections.
As long as Matta continues to roam the sidelines in Columbus, Buckeye fans should expect to have a rooting interest in May and June when the NBA playoffs come around.