In sports, teams are often seen as a second family to players and coaches.
Players are like siblings, with the coaches serving as the parents — or in many cases the crazy uncles — of this unlikely family.
But when one of your own leaves, how do you face them in battle?
That is a question the Ohio State men’s basketball team has to ponder as it takes on 11th-seed Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday. The Flyers are led by redshirt-junior guard Jordan Sibert, who averages 12.5 points per game this year.
Sibert is also a former Buckeye, but after spending two seasons in Columbus — where he only averaged 2.1 points per game in 2010-11 and 3.0 in 2011-12 — the Cincinnati native made the decision to travel across the state and join the Dayton Flyers.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said Sunday he imagines getting a shot at his old school will fire Sibert up.
“(I’m) trying to put myself in his shoes, absolutely,” Smith Jr. said when asked if Sibert will be looking for a big game against OSU. “But at the same time we’re both in the same boat, you lose, you go home. So I think we’re both going to be jacked up for the same purposes.”
Sibert said Wednesday he is ready for the challenges that will come with facing his former team.
“Definitely excited when I heard that we were playing them,” Sibert said. “You know, every transfer would love to get a chance to go against their old school.”
Smith Jr. and senior guard Aaron Craft were a part of the recruiting class that included Sibert — as well as former OSU standouts Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, and Toledo forward J.D. Weatherspoon.
Even though Sibert left, Smith Jr. said he was as much a part of the team as any other player at OSU.
“Just like with any other of these guys up here, we were brothers, we were teammates,” Smith Jr. said. “We had one another in hard times. I don’t know, I guess things didn’t pan out as well for him (here) as they did for me. I guess I was just the fortunate one to get that starting position and remain here and play on this Buckeye team with these guys that I love so much. Then again, I’m pretty sure with whatever he did, his decision, he’s prepared.”
Coach Thad Matta, who had a hand in recruiting Sibert, said watching him succeed with Dayton puts a smile on his face.
“When he left he said, ‘Look, I want to play a lot,’” Matta said on Sunday. “And he’s definitely getting to do that, and he’s honestly having a great career there. I’m one of those guys that says, ‘Hey, as long as everybody’s happy in terms of where they are and what they’re doing, I’m happy for them.’”
Sibert said he holds no resentment for the school after leaving, and thought Matta was helpful throughout the process.
“No hard feelings at all,” Sibert said. “Leaving the program, Thad did a great job helping me find a new place. My choice for Dayton was pretty easy … Me being from Cincinnati, making that trip to Dayton was definitely an easy choice for me.”
Junior forward Sam Thompson, who was a freshman during Sibert’s final season with the Buckeyes, was on the receiving end of Sibert’s loss of playing time. As Sibert’s minutes got cut, OSU began to rely more on Thompson off the bench.
Thompson said he didn’t feel there was anything different in the competition between himself and Sibert.
“It was tough,” Thompson said on Sunday. “I don’t think there was anything special between Jordan and me. Our practices are the toughest practices I’ve ever been a part of. There’s competition all across the board between all 12 guys or however many guys we had that year. So there’s definitely some competition between the two of us, but I don’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.”
On top of leading his team in points per game, Sibert is also Dayton’s second best 3-point marksman, hitting 43.9 percent of his attempts from outside of the arc.
Matta said he has seen an improvement in Sibert’s outside shooting since he joined the Flyers.
“I’ve watched Dayton play this year. I think percentage-wise, Jordan’s much higher than he was here,” Matta said Sunday.
But Matta was quick to add that despite none of his players shooting higher than 36.2 percent this year from long range, he doesn’t think about what could have been with Sibert.
“No, because he’s doing his thing, and he’s doing it well,” Matta said. “Those kind of things don’t cross my mind very often.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to tip off against Dayton Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Buffalo, N.Y.
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