Courtesy of Weston Strayer
The squeaking of brand new Nikes against polished hardwood fills the expansive interior of an empty Schottenstein Center. Bouncing basketballs, blowing whistles and exhausted grunts combine to form the soundtrack of a Buckeye basketball practice. Some of the members of the Ohio State men’s basketball program stand drenched in sweat, hands on their hips and watch as others participate in drills.
These spectators and participants combine to comprise an indisposable crew on the floor, but they aren’t the basketball team. They’re the seven members of the Ohio State men’s basketball managerial staff.
While the actual team wins the games and earns the headlines, the staff supporting the team is happy to sit behind the bench on game days, out of the spotlight. They’re OK with the idea that the outside world has no clue how important they were to coach Thad Matta and his teams’ preparations for victory.
“A lot of people just think we’re all ‘water and towels’ and just kind of there,” said Weston Strayer, manager and a fourth-year in marketing. “But they don’t understand just how much time and work we put in each week to the program.”
Their contributions are noticed by those who pay attention though.
“The managers do everything you really don’t want to do, and they do it with a smile on their face,” said senior forward Evan Ravenel. “They’re one of the key components to our team, and we wouldn’t be half as good without those guys.”
A typical OSU student gets up, goes to class, maybe goes to work afterward and then juggles homework with a social life. The managers have those same obligations, but in addition to their school obligations, they deal with between 35 and 40 hours a week of unpaid work for basketball activities.
They show up for 10 a.m. practice an hour before to set up. They stay two hours after to rebound for players who want to get extra shots up or to run errands for coaches. It can end up being a five-hour shift. On game days, they’re there for the pre-game shootaround five hours before tip-off and will stay at the arena for the next eight hours, through the pre-game team meal and the game itself.
During the games, they take advanced stats for the coaches, set up chairs on the court for the team during timeouts and manage Matta’s play-calling whiteboard.
“Once the game starts, nothing we have done is going to change anything, but preparation-wise, we definitely help them out where we can,” Strayer said. “We try and do our best to help them prepare and make everything a little bit easier for them.”
The man in charge of the managers is David Egelhoff, director of basketball operations. He’s been on the OSU staff for 10 years and in his current position for seven. In addition to handling the day-to-day, off-court activities of the basketball team, he handles the application and hiring process of the team’s managers and serves as their boss.
It’s a position his past has qualified him for.
Egelhoff served as a student manager for OSU’s basketball team from 1998 to 2002 under former OSU coach Jim O’Brien. He said his times as a manager make up some of his favorite college memories.
“I’ve made lifelong friendships, not only with the managers but the coaching staffs and players I’ve worked with as well,” Egelhoff said. “We had a really enjoyable time doing a lot of things … those experiences we had were pretty special to me.”
The sheer quantity of time the managers spend with each other has allowed them to form a special bond.
“It’s a great group of guys, we joke and mess with each other and it’s a lot of fun,” Strayer said. “We kind of joke when we walk out of the tunnel (during home games), they announce the ‘three-time defending Big Ten champions’ and then we all kind of just come out before everyone, so I always wonder what people think when they see us in the suits walking out by the team.”
Evan Kurt, a third-year manager and a fourth-year in marketing, said the experiences of going to the Final Four and to different venues around the country have made managing the “best time” of his life.
While the managers know they will never make the game-winning shot, they also are aware that their weeklong contributions before the 40-minute games are vital.
“There’s a lot that goes on at practices that people don’t see. If you don’t know all about what goes on behind the scenes, you don’t really understand,” Kurt said. “Game to game, it’s players and coaches who determine success, but behind the scenes, it’s us helping everybody improve and helping everybody get better.”
The managers’ reward for the hours upon hours of dirty work isn’t fame, money or recognition. It’s something less tangible, but something the managers say is much more important.
“The sense of being a part of the team,” Strayer said. “It’s one thing to be a fan, but to be emotionally involved, and to be with the team all the time and to be a part of the team is something I’ll never forget.”
Ravenel, a player who has played on three Big Ten championship teams and a Final Four team, expressed the team’s gratitude for its managers.
“A program like ours wouldn’t be able to be successful without guys like our managers,” Ravenel said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 17, 2013
An earlier version of this story stated that Evan Ravenel played on two Final Four teams for OSU. In fact, he played on one.