The Eight Debate

By David Sokol on May 22, 2012 at 1:00p
#8 on the list and moving upCraft has already had crazy impact on the program

With Thad Matta entering his ninth season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the last eight years of basketball recruiting, weighing in on Ohio State's eight most impactful and influential recruits on the Buckeye program. I also listed the biggest duds.

In Thad's eight seasons, a total of thirty-two recruits have committed to Ohio State. Of the thirty-two, Thad has reeled in a total of eight "five-star" commits, twelve "four-star", nine "three-star" guys, and four Junior College players. In the years since Thad took over the Buckeyes, OSU's recruiting has been among the best in the nation, often getting comparisons to the recruiting efforts of the big few programs (UNC, UK, Kansas, etc.).

Many have come through Columbus, helped out the team, moved on to the next level and/or received their degrees from Ohio State. Many didn't work out, couldn't cut the college life, and moved on.

Let's start by counting down the top eight recruits based on their impacts and influence on the program.

8. Aaron craft (2010)

The former Tennessee commit did not originally get too many looks from Ohio State (although being from Findlay, OH) but no one plays harder for the Buckeyes than Craft. On top of playing hard, Craft has helped manufacture an excellent image for the basketball program with his stellar academic record, community service and leadership. He has, more or less, become the face of the program and will continue to do so for the next two years.

Nobody outworks Craft, nobody hustles as hard as he does, and nobody is as lovable as he is (unless you're an opponent, then you hate Craft). Craft is the Big Ten's best defender and other teams are frustrated with him. Luckily, Bruce Pearl messed up and the Buckeyes were lucky enough to land this guy. Craft's impact on the program is infinite and only trending upward.

7. Mike Conley Jr. (2006) 

Carrying on the name

Conley came into his own in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, helping lead the Buckeyes to the national title game and emerging from Greg Oden's shadow. Not only was Conley part of the Thad-5, he was also from Indiana and was the top point guard in the class. By locking down Conley, Thad was able to show that the Buckeyes were going to be a recruiting force in the conference, opening up the borders between Ohio and Indiana for top recruits. Conley had the most assists in a season ever at OSU, as well.

Conley went on to become the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft and is widely considered one of the best Buckeyes in the pros (up for debate). His success on the Memphis Grizzlies also adds to his impact on the program.

6. Jon Diebler (2007)


There was not a more heralded Ohio high school scorer than Jon Diebler, who is the all-time Ohio scoring champion at 3,208 points. Diebler's influence over the Buckeyes during his four year tenure at Ohio State was much greater than often realized. Diebler was recruited to spread the floor and score. It took him some time to adjust at the next level, but he accomplished what he was recruited to do.

Diebler owns Ohio State's all-time three point record, the Big Ten's record for most three-pointers in a game, and most three pointers in a season. He also started 115 total games in his OSU career. Evidence is there and Diebler's impact was tremendous. He was definitely missed this past season, despite reaching the Final Four.

5. Will Buford (2008)

Think of Cedar Point Amusement Park. Then think of one of the many roller coasters at the park. Well, you're now thinking about Will Buford's Buckeye career as well. In reality, Buford is one of the best players in the Matta era. A former 5-star recruit and McDonalds All American, Buford was among the most highly recruited shooting guards in the nation.

A Toledo native, Buford decided to stay close to home and spent four years in Columbus where he ended his career tied third on the all-time Ohio State leading scorer list. Buford was a key member of all four teams he played on in his OSU tenure and could be an everyday player at the next level. Buford had an amazing career in the scarlet and gray and his tenure made tremendous impact on the program.

4. David Lighty (2006)

In my eyes, no one is a truer Buckeye than David Lighty. Lighty, who spent five years at Ohio State, was part of the 2006 class labeled the Thad-5 and was probably the least heralded. No one knew that he would have such a tremendous impact on the OSU program.

Lighty played in and won more games than any Buckeye in history but also played in the most games in NCAA history (157). It was often joked that Lighty should have his jersey retired in the Schottenstein rafters, but I was one to believe that they should. Lighty battled back from injuries, displayed the best leadership abilities, and locked down every opponent on defense. His impact will not be forgotten.

3. Evan Turner (2007)

ET reppin' The Ohio State

Although not as highly touted as some of the others in Thad's repertoire, Evan Turner is probably the best overall player during his Ohio State tenure. Turner, from Chicago, was a consensus top-60 recruit and arrived in Columbus as an extremely raw freshman. No one had better work ethic than Turner who transformed into the best player in the country by his Junior year beating out John Wall for National Player of the Year honors.

At times, Turner carried the Buckeyes on his back. Coincidentally, Turner broke his back his Junior season, returning just a few weeks later. He averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 6 assists a game as a Junior, one of the best overall seasons in OSU history. Turner's name could be hanging in the rafters a few years down the line. Turner also set the precedent for future recruits as many young prospects look to replicate Turner's success at Ohio State.

2. Greg Oden (2006)

There is not a more recognizable recruit in Ohio State history than Greg Oden. Oden was the #1 overall player in the class and instantly became the best player in college basketball. Oden was the prime example of how Thad could go into other states (specifically Indiana, again) and take the top talent.

Oden, the centerpiece of the Thad-5, dominated the paint for a bit more than half a season but really helped an emerging powerhouse reach the top. Oden helped the Buckeyes to a #1 ranking and an overall #1 seed in the NCAA tournament before being drafted as the #1 overall pick. From a PR standpoint, Oden helped Ohio State basketball into the spotlight along side with the school's football program. That's something you don't see very often in Columbus.

1. Jared Sullinger (2010)

Sully was the centerpiece

Having Sullinger committed so Ohio State so early in his basketball career helped the program out drastically. Those that argue that Oden should top Sullinger do not see the behind the scenes impact that Sullinger had on OSU recruiting. With Sullinger as the centerpiece of the '10 class four years before enrolling, Thad had plenty of time to put great players around him and that's what he did. Thad was able to lure in recruits using Sullinger as his main recruiting tool and it was effective as ever. Thad locked down several of Sullinger's AAU teammates including Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and others (we won't name those who transferred). Sullinger even had direct affect on the classes in front and behind his as everyone wanted to play with a star like Sully.

Simply put, no one had a bigger impact on OSU recruiting and the program like Jared Sullinger. Sullinger may not be a top pick in the NBA Draft but he will go in the first round and will definitely carry the Buckeye name with him wherever he goes. Imagine the  state of the program if Sullinger had gone to a Michigan State, North Carolina, or Duke instead of staying in his hometown to be a hero. Things would be quite different.

Just Missed the Cut: Deshaun Thomas (trending upward), Mark Titus (seriously, his PR has done wonders for the program)

The Duds (High expectations, no results)

4. Anthony "Noopy" Crater (2008)

Anthony Crater was a consensus top point guard and was set to take over a Conley-esque role upon his arrival. Crater contributed as a freshman but did not like his minutes. He eventually transferred to South Florida and was kicked off the team there.

3. Daequan Cook (2006)

Although Daequan Cook eventually was taken late in first round of the NBA draft, Cook never seemed to want to be in Columbus and would have most likely entered the draft from high school if he had the opportunity. Cook, a big time recruit, came off the bench and never really made a substantial impact on the Ohio State program.

2. Kosta Koufos (2007)

Kosta Koufos did lead the Buckeyes to an NIT championship (bleh, the NIT) averaging 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, however, he seemed like he never wanted to be a Buckeye either. Titus mentioned in his book that he was a ball hog and no one on the team seemed to like him.

1. BJ Mullens (2008)

BJ Mullens was the consensus #1 overall recruit but never seemed to fulfill the expectations set forth. Before enrolling at OSU, Mullens was projected to be a top pick in the following year's NBA draft and that may be all he cared about. Mullens did not even start for the Buckeyes and bolted for the NBA as soon as the season ended, despite his poor season.

Let the debate begin!


Comments Show All Comments

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Good atricle David - i would have been tempted to put thomas in as  8b - only because there seem to be a clear cut 9. My biggest concern is that these 8 players really come from the first 6 classes, worried that the program is on the down trend with the lame incoming class & not much but Loving on the horizon.

David Sokol's picture

It's funny because I originally had DT at #8 but had so much dissonance that I ended up switching it to Craft and felt comfortable keeping him there.

I think if we re-visit this in a year from now, the list could completely change, pending DT's performance.

Ethos's picture

i'd switch buford and Thomas, but i'm just bitter.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

petebuc52's picture

I feel you Ethos lol!

JakeBuckeye's picture

Bitter over what? The fact that Buford was the only player to show up for the entire game in the Final Four loss to Kansas? Get out of here with Buford hate.

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Get over yourself Jake, So tired of your inflammatory comments every time someone criticizes Buford - who is easily the biggest dissapointment of any of the "8". Congrats he showed up for 2 games his senior year.

ShadyBuckeye's picture

Get over yourself Oakland. you started drama with me earlier and now ur going after someone else?? Im starting to see a pattern here. Why dont u just stick with commenting on the articles and stop getting all ghetto alright my ninja?

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Can't wait to see #4 continue to grow as a floor general

Ohioste's picture

As much as I like Sullinger, I'd have to put Oden first.
A lot of that may have to do with the direct impact that he had to get Conley here. Plus I think it set the tone for what Ohio State was going to be in the future. I think as a direct result of that national championship game, we got some of the elite talent that we might not have been able to reel in.

edgell12's picture

Interesting that you mention Oden's impact on getting Conley to Columbus because, according to Titus, Oden was the whole reason he was in Columbus. Based on the same reasoning for Sully landing in the top spot on the list, Oden was not only one of the two best players in the country while at OSU, leading the Bucks to NCG, but he was also directly responsible for bringing #7 (on the list) to Columbus as well as a 'just missed the cut' guy.
Toss up. Can't argue Dave's selections at 1-2, beyond maybe the need for a 1a and 1b.

KE's picture

I think Oden should be lower. Remember, he was out for the first third or so of the season, and it then took several games to get into the swing of things (he played but shot left-handed his first few games while his right wrist was in a cast). He dominated for maybe half a season. Had he stayed for a second year, he might deserve a #2 or maybe a #1, but given his signficiant but limited impact, I think #2 is too high.

slicksickle's picture

Had Oden stayed a 2nd year, he sadly would probably be higher on this list, but would not have made it to the NBA due to injuries.

buck-I.8's picture

I agree, but more because you literally couldn't get to the basket against without getting stuffed. He was unstoppable on both ends of the floor, and he was a guy teams had to rewrite their entire game plans to try to beat

tennbuckeye19's picture

Wait, no mention of P.J. Hill? 
While I do agree that Oden was great and I thought he was the most dominant player, it could be debated if he was the 'best player in college basketball' for his one and only season in Columbus. Many would say Kevin Durant was the better player and he won all the major player of the year awards. However, I do completely agree with your sentiment that the impact of having Greg Oden for the one season cannot be overempasized. That team laid down the path of success (and expectations) that OSU basketball has enjoyed ever since. 

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

It's game time baby!

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

RedStorm45's picture

Did Durant get his team anywhere near the final 4? (He had DJ Augustin, Dexter Pittman, AJ Abrams, etc. so it wasn't like it was a one man show)  Oden dealt with an injury most of the season and had to shoot free throws left-handed.  I think it would have been a toss-up had Greg been healthy all year.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I agree, if Oden had played the whole year and not been hampered by the wrist injury, it would've been a toss-up. I only wanted to point out that Durant was POY. It shows how great Oden was in that he missed some of the season, shot free throws with his opposite hand, and was still an All-American. 

petebuc52's picture

  Dropping (hometown kid) Lightly down one spot (sorry) Conley up to 4th, Diebler up to 6th, Craft up to 7th, buford down to 8th...Matta lamented losing conley to the nba until (with the help of Sully influence and Bruce Pearl ncaa vio.) he got Craft who is one of the best on ball d players i've ever seen (and i've watched a lot of ball).

buckeyes411's picture

Was Jamar Butler a Thad recruit or was he committed before Thad came in?
Butler could probably be a mix of a top 8 and a dud. Guy was a bum one day and a star the next...
Love the bball articles

tennbuckeye19's picture

Butler was not a Matta recruit. He played two years for O'Brien (05-06) and two for Matta (07-08).

buckeyes411's picture

Who do you think could be on this list come year 9 or 10? I'm feeling someone like Sam Thompson or Amir breaking in..

tennbuckeye19's picture

My previous reply was incorrect. I was answering off the top of my head and then had to look it up cause I was questioning myself.
Butler actually could've been a Matta recruit, although he might've been recruited by O'Brien prior to his dismissal as well. Butler played from 2005 to 2008 and Matta's first year in Columbus was 2004-2005.

buckeyes411's picture

Right, that's why I was confused. I can't remember when Butler committed, so it obviously could've been either of what we mentioned.

petebuc52's picture

sorry I had Diebler staying at sixth spot

buckeyechad's picture

I was about to complain about conley only being 7 then as I went down the list I couldn't really argue. Damn Matta brings in some TALENT

Shaun's picture

If you are counting recruiting impact like you did with Sully its hard to ignore the recruiting impact of Daequan Cook. He was a 5* guy and the first big commit at OSU for Matta. He didn't meet expectations but I don't think its a stretch to say without the help of Cook we may not land his AAU teammates Oden and Conley.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Thats true. It was Cook supposedly who was able to get Conley and Oden to consider OSU.

rider1's picture

I fricking hate 1 and done and have trouble separating those players from the rule. Do you retire Oden's number? The Tank is going to have serious NPOY numbers. I'm excited for next season & see us and the Hoosiers in the thick of things. Go Bucks!

tennbuckeye19's picture

OSU doesn't retire your number unless you are a national player of the year, and while Oden was an all-american, he was not national player of the year. They haven't retired the number of OSU's all-time leading scorer, Dennis Hopson, for that very reason. 

RedStorm45's picture

I can't remember which...but one of Bradds, Havliceck, and Lucas didn't win NOPY.  They still got their # retired because they played with the guy who won POY (e.g. Lucas won NPOY but Havliceck was so awesome at the same time they retired it anyway or something like that).

tennbuckeye19's picture

As I was looking up the scenario you mentioned above, which turned out to be an exception made for Havlicek getting his number retired due to Lucas winning POY honors twice while Havlicek played for OSU just as you described, I found this article stating that OSU will no longer be retiring numbers for any sports, but will be honoring players in 'other ways'.

RedStorm45's picture

Yes, it's very dumb.  They started with Heisman winners in football...then added Bill Willis for what he meant to the African American community.  So there's not a ton of numbers retired there.  I think just 3 or 4 in basketball and Katie Smith on the women's side.  They're definitely not running out of numbers in any sport.

edgell12's picture

I wonder if Oden couldn't land at #1 if only for the same reason Titus landed in the 'just missed the cut' line. Hard to separate on-court from off-court (Sully and his early commitment) so it's tough to bump him from #1, but......those two are the only ones I really question.
Hopefully, if we can look at this list 10 months into the future, DT would fall somewhere around 4-5 and Craft might be right behind Will.Can't see him passing Bu over though IMO, even with two years left. 

Nappy's picture

Imagine a starting 5 of Craft at PG, Turner at SG, Diebs at SF, Sully at PF and Oden at C.  That would be nasty!

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

RedStorm45's picture

Turner played better with the ball, not off it.

Nappy's picture

Started Craft over Conley for defensive purposes.  Evan could bring the ball down the court and Craft could help when pressured.

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

buckeyes411's picture

Craft over Conley?
I am a firm believer that Sullinger's early commitment helped the program out in ways we do not see. He being committed helped draw attention from other top prospects and allowed the staff to focus on other needs as well.

RedStorm45's picture

How do you define "impact and influence on the program?" That's why you'll end up with different lists.
Hard to say Daequan was a dud when he won sixth man of the year in the big ten, though I do get what you mean about him not wanting to play here.
Duds...Eric Wallace? Where do you put Offutt since he went to OU and found success? Jordan Sibert is definitely a dud though - rated the #7 SG in his class and never found meaningful minutes...or his 3 point shot.
Can't really agree with this - "Sullinger even had direct affect on the classes in front and behind his as everyone wanted to play with a star like Sully."  Here's why - we signed no one in the class before he got there.  Two years prior - BJ Mullens (obviously had plans to leave), Buford (also had plans to leave in a year or two, but definitely wouldn't have committed based on Sully coming 2 years down the road), and everyone else transferred or left by 2010.  Classes after...maybe, but didn't all of us think he'd be 1 and done?  I guess it's possible for the class after his and definitely when he came in with Craft and D.T., but I don't see the prior years impact.
It's all how you rank "impact."  Matta has repeatedly stated they should build a statue of David Lighty for his impact on the program.  A lot of observers noted that he and Diebler would make sure the team was ready for practice and ready to work, and when they left the young team this past year didn't have much direction from veteran players.

David Sokol's picture

Impact: how the program was affected before they arrived at OSU, during, and after..

We all know Sullinger will continue to wear OSU on his sleeve for his career.. Daequan on the other hand, not so much (refer to Titus' book, if you haven't read it). He was a great player and may have had impact on that '06-07 team, but did he leave anything valuable behind?

Influence: changing people's behavior, perception of the program and leaving behind characteristics that stick with the program for the future

I guarantee Thad sold a kid like Sam Thompson or Marc Loving on OSU by saying that he could be the next Evan Turner...

The Sullinger name is synonymous with Ohio State. Prospects look at Ohio State thinking they could be the next Sullinger and the staff most definitely uses that to their advantage. (DaJuan Coleman and Tony Parker both highly considered OSU knowing that they could potentially fill his shoes; although we couldn't reel either in). I can guarantee the staff uses Sullinger's story and success as a major recruiting tool.


RedStorm45's picture

Ok.  I'm not sure, but I feel like Lighty should be higher.  His leadership on and off the floor was tremendous.  Craft certainly picked that up this year when it looked like Buford didn't, but we hadn't really had a "defensive specialist" lockdown kind of guy in awhile, and he took that role on.  It certainly helped Thad preach defense = playing time because he struggled offensively early in his career.  I really think his game and work ethic rubbed off on Lenzelle and Craft in pushing them to be collegiate-ready.
Also, Titus can't really be considered since he was never recruited.  Technicality, if we're looking at "recruits."

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Great list and analysis, David.
I, too, am a bit concerned about the impacts from the light 2012 recruiting class. On the other hand, the #8 guy on the list above (Craft) is still on the roster, as is the #8A (DT). It wouldn't surprise me if A. Williams makes a run at this list, too. 
Plus, next year's team will be a pretty veteran team compared to most other Matta squads. Three of the former top eight players didn't really "make the [above] list" until DURING/AFTER their junior years - E. Turner, D. Lighty, J. Diebler. I don't see L. Smith as a top 10 guy, but top 15 seems within range . . .
So, if A. Williams and S. Thompson develop offensive games, Ross learns man-to-man defense, and Ravenel gets into top condition, the 2012-13 squad could be very good again. Of course, 2013-14 could get dicey . . . 

Buckeye Chuck's picture

I have to question the methodology of a system that considers players who were at OSU for one season before becoming first round NBA picks to be "duds." It smacks of sour grapes over players the author believes "should have stayed."
I would probably put Oden #1, simply because he was both the top recruit in the nation--and unquestionably so, not #1 the way Mullens and Sullinger arguably were--and from out-of-state. That's a kind of recruit that puts a program on the map (think about when Patrick Ewing signed with Georgetown, a program that up till then had gotten almost all of its players from metro DC). Sullinger was a great get obviously, but frankly, it would have been a surprise had he gone anywhere else--because of the legacy of the Thad Five class.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Call it sour grapes, and to a certain degree it is, but it sure does seem like Cook, Koufos and Mullens would've benefited from staying at least one more year @ OSU. 

David Sokol's picture

Koufos and Mullens together could have been interesting to watch, but then Turner may not have busted out his sophomore year... who knows?

warriard1002's picture

Great article indeed but to play devils advocate in the all bust list how much of this can but directly attributed to Matta's blatent lack of playing time for some guys. I also agree on how you define impact. I think Oden's signing springboard alot of the outside talent matt'a gets. Sulley was in the fold reguardless. Now this Buford thing i am indifferent on because in my opion he was the classic underachiever. Played for years w/out a significant impact. I'm sure no young men are going there because william Buford went there except for relatives lol ok I will give you Toledo.

WoodysGlasses's picture

Though I will never understand the love for Craft, I think the list is otherwise pretty good.

rdubs's picture

I think Diebler should be much lower.  He scored a lot of points in HS because he shot 90% of his teams shots.  I saw him go like 12/40 in a game and put up about 40 points.  Really not that impressive.  I know he had better games, but there is a reason he wasn't that big of a recruit despite putting up video game numbers.  And it wasn't surprising to me at all that he didn't adjust quickly, in fact I am surprised he played much at all as a freshman.  
He turned out to be a very good player by the time he was a senior and is the type of player that coaches need to recruit to build solid teams in this day and age of one and dones, but not exactly a huge recruit.  Craft was a much bigger recruit in my opinion.

Poison nuts's picture

Would have been real nice to have Diebler around this year...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

kareemabduljacobb's picture

I used to like the shark but read that no one in the locker room really liked him, so I'm probably never reading his book.  plus he's a snitch.

RedStorm45's picture

I like how everyone (or like 90% of people) take what he writes either on Club Trill, his book, Grantland, etc. as 100% fact.  Do they forget he's now trying to make money off of his writing? I'm sure he embellished and/or made up some stories in his book to make it sound better for selling purposes.  That said, I could see why no one liked him if he was writing a blog to thousands of fans telling "behind the scenes" stories that usually don't make it out of the locker room.