With six new faces as well as five returning seniors in the fold, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is working to quickly blend the age groups before the season tips off.
The team hosted its 2014 media day Thursday at the Schottenstein Center, and one of the main topics discussed by the players and coach Thad Matta was dealing with the divide in age and experience.
“There are some pieces that are back, and those guys are consistent,” Matta said. “We have worked hard to integrate the new players so they mesh well and challenge the returning players to work and fight for a spot.”
Matta said the character of the incoming players has helped integrate them into the program.
“With six new guys coming in, the good thing is that we’ve added guys who are great kids, who have great morals and values and understanding of how we want to do things,” Matta said. “It helps the situation and helps guys get along a lot better.”
The Buckeyes carry six seniors on their roster: guard Shannon Scott, centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald forwards Sam Thompson, Jake Lorbach and Anthony Lee.
Scott, who is set to take over as full-time point guard this season after sharing the position last season with Aaron Craft, who has since graduated and signed with the Golden State Warriors, said he does not believe the freshmen will require too much guidance.
“It’s going to be fun for me, having a chance to lead these young guys,” Scott said. “But they’re not really babies, though, they’ve got a lot of game, and I really enjoy playing with them.”
However, Williams acknowledged that mixing in several new guys will not be something that happens overnight.
“It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, because we have six new guys who are not familiar with how we play here at Ohio State,” Williams said.
Lee, a transfer from Temple, also holds the distinction as one of the six new faces to the team. The others are guard D’Angelo Russell, forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop, and centers David Bell and Trevor Thompson. Trevor Thompson, a sophomore transfer from Virginia Tech, is not eligible to play until the 2015-16 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
“You look at our program, you lose these seniors, and next year we’ve got no seniors, and the next year we’ve only got one senior, in (sophomore forward) Marc (Loving),” Matta said. “So I think these (freshmen) do have a chance to kind of prove themselves, their worth, to our program.”
OSU went 25-10 last season, but failed to advance past its first game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. It has lost five players from that year’s squad, including three starters in guards Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and forward LaQuinton Ross.
Despite last season’s results and starters lost, Sam Thompson said that this team has developed a quick bond between older and younger players.
“This is the closest-knit group that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Sam Thompson said. “My class that’s been together for four years, I think we’re really close, and I guess it’s just trickled down. The freshmen are super close, the seniors are super close, for whatever reason we’re a close team. I think it’s going to show on the court.”
Loving agreed with his teammate’s assessment.
“It’s not really like an older-younger guy thing,” Loving said. “Our younger guys are pretty mature. The older guys gladly accept the younger guys, as well.”
Matta said he realizes the importance of a team forming a tight bond.
“The best teams we’ve ever had are the closest teams we’ve ever had, and you hope that carries forth,” Matta said. Matta did not know how the connections on this year’s squad stacked up against past teams, however, because it has not had to work through any major problems as a unit yet.
OSU used a trip to the Bahamas in August to get an early jump on bringing the veterans and new players together.
“There are new pieces to our program and we’re trying to figure out everyone’s place,” Matta said. “Time spent traveling over the summer and spending time with one another was an opportunity to build a bond that can’t be done any other way.”
The OSU men’s basketball team’s season is scheduled to begin with an exhibition against Walsh University on Nov. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.