Channeling Mamba: Ross Announces His Arrival

By Kyle Rowland on March 29, 2013 at 1:00p
Thad Matta had nothing but love for LaQuinton Ross Thursday night

LOS ANGELES – Aaron Craft’s game-winning 3 was improbable due to his lack of shooting prowess. LaQuinton Ross’ season-saver one week later wasn’t forecasted because the sophomore has been an enigma since he arrived on campus, left and then reemerged.

After dealing with academic uncertainty and a season attached to the bench, Ross has evolved into Ohio State’s X-factor if it hopes to make a return trip to the South, site of this year’s Final Four.

When the Buckeyes needed a lift against Wisconsin, it was Ross who stepped to the forefront. In the second half against Iowa State, he scored 10 straight points and finished with 17 for the game. Once again, it was a second-half surge that Ross provided against Arizona. He scored 14 points in the second half – 11 in the final eight minutes.

When Ohio State got tight, he remained loose. In those closing minutes, the Buckeyes scored 14 points. Yes, Ross had all but three of Ohio State’s last 14 points. None were bigger than the Kobe Bryant-esque buzzer-beater.

Staples Center has played host to so many of Bryant’s finest moments. Here was the guy occupying his locker engineering the same dramatics.

“I found out from one of the guys that works here it was Kobe Bryant’s locker,” Ross said. “Before we got here, I called dibs on it anyway. But I didn’t know whose it was until he came in and told me.”

The win is Ohio State’s 11th consecutive overall, second straight in the last seconds, and it is now on the brink of an implausible Final Four berth. On Feb. 17, 40 days ago, the Buckeyes were 8-5 in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since.

Ross’ outburst during the most crucial stretch of the season – that happens every game now – wasn’t a total shock when you consider the level he’s been playing at lately. But if one thinks about where he’s come from, the feat is remarkable.

Thad Matta’s recruiting classes have become the stuff of legend in Columbus. Two years ago, he brought in another group of players that combined were considered one of the best classes in the country. Ross was the crown jewel.

He enrolled the summer prior to his freshman year and immediately turned heads in open gym. Scoonie Penn, Mike Conley and Ross’ current teammates raved about his shot-making. Ohio State was coming off a season in which it was the best team in the country all season but was upset in the Sweet 16.

Now they entered a year of uncertainty without shooting specialist Jon Diebler. His absence was thought to be a missing ingredient to success. But it looked like Ross was plenty capable of filling that void.

Then weeks before practice was to begin in October, Ross received the bad news. He had not qualified academically and would have to go home to Mississippi to fulfill his requirements. Nine times out of 10, players never make it to their original destination when these situations arise. Ross, however, quickly put Matta and Buckeye Nation at ease, declaring his intentions to carve a playing career at Ohio State.

Sure enough, in mid-December, Ross arrived in Columbus. It was different than the summer, though, and it wasn’t just because of the weather. Away from the game for months, Ross was not in basketball shape and didn’t display the on-court skills he had over the summer. He played all of 35 minutes during the season and found himself on the bench during Ohio State’s run to the Final Four.

“Those first two months of the season are the most important months in terms of fundamentals,” Matta said. "So when he got here, he was a little behind.

LaQuinton Ross called Kobe's locker on the flight out.Ohio State in the Lakers' locker room. [Ohio State Photo]

“I told him at one point, ‘Look, I can’t hold tryouts during the Big Ten because the league is too good.’ But, to his credit, he kept working.”

Last week, Ross said he didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment because his contributions were so minute. In the offseason, he thought to himself, “I want to get a ring of my own.”

He made sure he’d have the opportunity with a second half for the ages. Threes, finishing at the rim, getting rebounds – all of it was working for Ross. And on the Buckeyes’ final possession of the night, Craft had enough trust in Ross to swing a pass his way, not take the shot himself or go to Deshaun Thomas. Instead, Craft went the way of the unknowable sophomore.

“I threw it and said, 'Knockdown,’” Craft said. “So he’d better make it. I’m glad he listened to me. Sometimes you need to tell him what you need him to do, but I don’t think he needed too much reassurance of what to do with the ball there.”

Apparently not. It may have been the purest shot Staples saw all night. That Kobe Karma isn’t a bad thing to possess.

“LaQuinton Ross is a big part of Ohio State’s success,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who has now been defeated by Matta, his mentor, in excruciating fashion not once but twice.

But don’t forget, 19 seconds before “The Shot” came “The Foul.” Down three, Arizona’s Mark Lyons drove hard to the basket, drawing a foul from Ross, and making the shot. The and-1 tied the game and made Ross the goat – albeit for less than a minute.

Wildcat coaches and players described the 6-foot-7 Ross, who’s skinnier than a green bean, as a matchup nightmare. It’s the same terminology the Buckeyes have been using for weeks.

Ross is no longer the guy who complains about playing defense, protests Ohio State’s offensive system or is winded halfway through practice because of poor conditioning habits. He’s come full circle and developed into a team-first player.

“Coming in my freshman year, I think I was kind of immature as far as my thinking, thinking why am I not playing, why am I not doing this?” Ross admitted. “I think everything paid off, all the hard work is paying off in this tournament.”

He’s averaging 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds per tournament game – and clutch baskets galore in the second half. Lenzelle Smith Jr. expressed so much confidence in his sharpshooting teammate that he said he nearly started strutting to the locker room when his final shot went in the air. There was little doubt what the end result would be, Smith said.

“This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA,” Ross said. “It just feels great to be here right now.”

During Ohio State’s shootaround on Wednesday, the players glad-handed with TBS’ announcing crew, which includes Reggie Miller, considered by many to be the best three-point shooter of all-time. Ross took it upon himself to find out just how good Miller is and demanded a three-point contest. Right here, right now.

Chris Jent assured Reggie that he had nothing to worry about, drawing a hearty chuckle from those within earshot. Twenty-four hours later, Miller was calling Ross’ game-winning 3 and singing the breakout player’s praises.

“I think I'm going to try to make him come out of retirement and shoot a little bit,” Ross said.

Maybe Ross was more Miller than Bryant on this night. 


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input4u's picture

Interesting Comparison.  Same lanky build.  Many people did not like Reggie Miller, but dude was deadly coming off screens hitting 3's from all over the place.  Many times not facing the basket and turn and shoot.  Heck they even have the "Reggie Miller" Rule in the NBA now which prohibits kicking out your leg to create space.  Look at the Follow thru with Q's leg on that shot.  right leg extended.  Good impersonation of a Reggie Miller Bomb to me....

Mr. Slick's picture

Q is the perfect example of hard work paying off.  How many other players in his shoes would have transferred somewhere else when things got hard here at tOSU?  Instead he improved on the things his coaches asked him to improve on and the results have been incredible.
This also goes to show that Matta will play as many guys as he can get to buy in to the program and be complete players.  If he can only get 6 guys in that group then he only plays 6.  If he can get 10 guys in that group he would play all 10.  And you don't have to start the season being in that group either.  Every player can increase his role on the team by proving himself in practice to earn a little bit of time in games and then use that little bit of time in games to prove himself worthy of a lot of times in games.  And hen in Q's case he used continued to prove himself worthy of being an option in the last play of the game with a berth to the Elite 8 on the line.  Props.

EazyElmo's picture

Thank you Q for being a better character guy than many gave you credit for after your freshman year. It takes a humble person to change and to change that much, from a "why am I not getting the ball" type to a "what can I do to help the team" type. Keep growing as a person and player and the world can be yours Mr. Ross

zbd's picture

I watched LQR play in high school. I told my friends he reminded me of a black John Diebler with his shooting touch, but needed work on rebounding and defense. Gotta give him credit for working on his complete game. He is even humble in admitting his mistake in fouling Lyons with a 3 point lead. Now on to the game against Wichita State tomorrow.

Citrus's picture

All year the question was: Who is the second scoring option? Well now we know that when Thomas is taken away we have two guys that can put the offense on their back.
I think Matta deserves some credit for the way he uses the line-up. He seems to plug Ross in the right moments. Its like the opponent forgets we have him and get lulled to sleep by Ravenel and Williams then Q steps in scores 14 in 10 minutes.

ATXbucknut's picture

This is good to see. Sean Miller came to congratulate the Buckeyes after the game last night. It's hard not to like Miller. 

Unky Buck's picture

This is the kind of sportsmanship that I expect to see out of the Thad coaching tree. It's great to see. Now only if these guys could teach Crean some manners like this... Eh, not likely, that guy is a douche of epic proportions.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

tennbuckeye19's picture

Miler is a class act. 

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Definetly a top notch coach.  I've got an even higher respect for him.

Bucks43201's picture

very cool pic, ATX

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

ATXbucknut's picture

Good stuff right here. 

ih8rolltyde's picture

All the props in the world to Q. He is a deadly scorer. I think his NBA prospects are better than anyone else on our roster (no disrespect to any other players). If he continues to improve, he has NBA All-Star offensive abilities.
I also gotta say for all that Q has given us in the 2nd half, Slam has played a big role in keeping things close in the 1st. He has hit some big shots that cut deficits from 8 to 5 (or similar) numerous times during this streak. The development of Slam and Q are why the Buckeyes have a legit shot at cutting em all down.
Props to Thad.

****igan smells like old water that hot dogs were boiled in.  FACT

TMargo's picture

Life is all about challenges and how you handle them.  What direction do you go when faced with true adversity?  And the correct choice is typically never the easy way.  Not many things bring more joy to my life than seeing young kids pick the right path in life.  And that is what I love most about sports is how it teaches you about life..... hard work, discipline, sacrifice, belief!!
Proud of Q and of this team......something truly special is happening in that locker room.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Ross has been a huge asset during crunch time lately!  Sure am glad he is on our side.  Amir also had some big moments which were unexpected.  I think he is starting to grow up a bit as well.  Gotta love these guys!  Go Bucks!!

nickma71's picture

Best 3 point shooter?
And while he was playing I could never stand him. It was magic and show time for me.

OurHonorDefend09's picture

pretty awesome that the two guys who made some really bone headed plays got a chance to redeem themselves and came up clutch two games in a row. I wouldn't mind a blow out tomorrow though. These close games are going to a give me a stroke before I turn 22.

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

AAStagg's picture

A heartwarming moment captured in that pic.  Guys who love to coach kids, secure in their friendship, genuinely happy for Deshaun Thomas, smiles all around.  Great stuff.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

Citrus's picture

Maybe I am a homer but I am partial to this guy

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Buckeyes got to keep their eyes on the ball.  If they play like this guy watching things then nothing will get by them.  Buckeyes on to the Final Four!!