The basketball Buckeyes may have disappointed many of the Scarlet and Gray faithful this year, but the one good thing that came out of this past weekend was that the future of the program is looking bright. While Evan Turner and P.J. Hill continued to struggle with the Siena press, Jared Sullinger and the rest of his future Buckeye teammates have been taking care of business, giving Buckeye Nation a glimpse of what could be in the future.
While the Class of 2009 has no recruits coming in (yet), because no scholarships were available to hand out before the season, Thad Matta already has verbal commitments from five members of the Class of 2010. These players aren't your average high school stars either, as the class includes four of ESPN/Scout Inc.'s Top 50 players in the class, including the nation's #1 ranked player in Columbus Northland's Jared Sullinger, the brother of former Buckeye captain J.J. Sullinger.
The younger Sullinger is joined in the class by Cincinnati Princeton SG Jordan Sibert (#42), Ft. Wayne (IN) Bishop Luers SF DeShaun Thomas (#6), Zion-Benton Township (IL) G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (#45), and Cleveland Benedictine SG Cameron Wright (NR). While the class is good enough as it currently stands, the staff is still looking to add another player, with the targets being Dayton Jefferson C Adreian Payne (#28) and Oak Hill Academy (VA) PG Pe'Shon Howard (#60), among others.
Sullinger is a prototypical big man, and at 6-8/250 has learned to dominate the high school game on the blocks. He's very explosive for a kid of his size and has continually shown the ability to take over a game. He is the consensus number one player in the class across all recruiting services and as a junior should continue to develop as a player over the next year and a half before he gets to Columbus.
Sibert, who plays with Sullinger on the All-Ohio Red AAU team, stands at 6-3/185. He is a slasher who is great at getting to the hoop and plays well above the rim, but defenders shouldn't sleep on his perimeter game either, although this area will need to improve at the college level. He, like Sullinger, has lead his high school team to the state semi-finals with his big game performances and clutch scoring, and will get to play in his future arena this weekend.
DeShaun Thomas was offered early by the Bucks and committed early as well, but backed off his early pledge to check out some other schools. After being recruited by Indiana, Duke, Purdue, and others, Thomas confirmed OSU was the place for him, and Thad and the staff were certainly all smiles to get this athletic forward who stands at 6-7/225. Thomas has drawn comparisons to LeBron James and has an outside game to accompany his ability to take the ball to the hoop. Thomas is averaging 30.1 ppg as a junior according to Max Preps, and should also continue to improve his game before coming to campus.
At 6-5/220, Lenzelle Smith Jr. is a combo guard who is most likely to start off at the point for the Bucks. Smith's size is certainly an advantage, especially on the boards, but he is also an excellent passer. Smith will need to work on his outside shooting before coming to college, but has the potential to be an excellent one or two guard for Thad Matta, as he is a smart player who can attack the basket as good as anyone in the nation.
Cameron Wright was another player who was offered early by the Bucks, but is not as highly touted as the other members of his class. Wright, who measures 6-4/195, is an athletic player who excels on the wing. Cameron will need to improve his shooting consistency to get significant playing time as a freshman, but he is a solid defender who uses his length to his advantage. He is a player who can surprise some people at the next level and should be a nice compliment to the players already on the roster.
The newest version of the "Thad 5" won't be coming into Columbus without any bullets already in the gun though. Sophomores Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler should be well seasoned seniors by the time these prospects come to Columbus, and with the red-shirt he will receive from sitting out this year, David Lighty should return for the 2010-2011 season as a fifth year senior captain. Nikola Kecman, Walter Offutt, and Zisis Sarikopoulos should still be around as well, while William Buford and Evan Turner will most likely not hang around to see Jared & Co. take over 'The Schott'.
Seeing as a Final Four run is likely not in the cards for next season, the roster is certainly shaping up to be a serious contender the following year. With the combination of veteran leadership and the young talent coming in the class of 2010, Thad Matta will be fully loaded to make a run similar to that of two seasons ago. A starting line-up of Lauderdale, Sullinger, Lighty, Diebler, and Offutt or Smith, with Thomas, Sibert, Sarikopoulos, Kecman, Wright, and possibly another top tier talent from the class of 2010 coming off the bench is a Buckeye hoops fan's dream and there will be no excuses if that team does not get it done come March of 2011. The loss against Siena on Saturday night still lingers, but looking to the future, there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel.