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Opinion: Thad Matta basketball tree evident with Boston Celtics

July 24, 2014

grega.9@osu.edu
Coach Thad Matta calls to players. OSU beat Purdue, 63-61, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament March 13 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Coach Thad Matta calls to players.
Lantern file photo

The talk of this summer’s NBA free agent frenzy has been all about LeBron James coming back to Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, another reunion of sorts is taking place elsewhere — and it isn’t in Ohio.

The Boston Celtics brought in former Ohio State Buckeye forward Evan Turner on Monday to improve a young roster with a young coach. That coach, Brad Stevens, also has an interesting tie to OSU.

Stevens coached under current Buckeye coach Thad Matta while Matta was the head man at Butler University. Stevens went on to take the same position and led the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA Championship Games, but fell short in both.

Now, Turner joins Stevens and fellow Buckeye forward Jared Sullinger, who could have played with Turner had the 2010 No. 2 overall pick not bolted for the NBA following his junior year.

The Matta player/coaching tree can be felt all over the league as Turner leaves a team in Indiana that included another Matta star, forward David West. West won the Associated Press Player of the Year under Matta at Xavier in 2003 as Turner did in 2010 for the Buckeyes.

So what’s next for Turner as he joins his third team in two years? Hopefully a bigger role than he had in Indiana.

When Turner was dealt to the Pacers in February, he was on pace for a career year as he was averaging 17.4 points per game and six rebounds per game in 54 games with Philadelphia.

Once he arrived in Indiana, though, he was reduced to a reserve role and averaged just 7.1 points per appearance, starting just two games as a Pacer.

Turner will now be coached by a Matta disciple and, with any luck, will be able to jumpstart his career. His learning curve will likely be reduced as Stevens’ terminology and schemes almost certainly mirror what Matta taught at OSU.

If Turner should need any guidance other than that of his coach, he needs to look no further than Sullinger, who has gone through just as much adversity as Turner.

Sullinger, who dominated the Big Ten with his strong frame, was thought to be undersized and injury-prone coming out of OSU, causing him to drop to the No. 21 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Despite suffering a season-ending back injury during his rookie year, Sullinger was able to bounce back during his sophomore season by more than doubling his points per game average from 6.0 in 2012-13 to 13.3 last season.

His coach during his second season? First-year NBA coach Brad Stevens.

With the Turner, Sullinger and Stevens trio in Boston, I look for the two former Buckeyes to turn into leaders on a team that only includes three players over the age of 30 and maybe even make the now wide-open Eastern Conference that much more interesting.


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