First posted by Stephan at Inside The Shoe
After the loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, I was absolutely heartbroken for this group of seniors. If there was ever a class that deserved a national championship, it was this group.
Eddie Days, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty. The class of 2011.
For four (or five) years, these kids’ blood, sweat and tears went into making Buckeye basketball the rising power that it is today.
For Lighty and Days, their journey began in the 2006-07 season that ended in a loss to Florida in the national championship game. Despite making the team as a walk-on, a concern about Days’ heart kept him out of that season. He finally made it back on the team as a walk-on before last season.
David Lighty was a role player on that national runner-up squad, but was a starter for the remainder of his career. Lighty suffered a foot injury in December 2008 that caused him to miss the remainder of that season. Lighty holds the NCAA record for most appearances with 157.
Dallas Lauderdale. The ultimate team player. If the Buckeyes needed to go small for a game, he didn’t complain about his lack of playing team. If they needed him to play 25-30 minutes, he would play like it was his last time on the court. Despite free throw form that might make you cringe, Swatterdale came to play on a nightly basis. And he has a mean falsetto.
Jon Diebler. Sharpshooter extraordinaire. Diebler is the all-time 3-point shooting leader for Ohio State and the Big Ten with 374 made. It’s scary to think how many more he would have had if he had shot better that 29 percent during his first season on campus. If the Buckeyes needed a big 3-pointer, there was no one you’d rather have with the ball in his hands than Threebler himself (something he proved in the loss to Kentucky with an ice-cold 3-pointer to tie late in the game.)
Diebler celebrates another B1G championship with his teammates
Enough with the details, now I’m going to try to explain how this class finally put Ohio State on the map in the basketball world. Obviously, Thad Matta has a lot to do with the success. Before this class, Buckeye basketball only showed blips of the potential it finally put together over the past four years. Some may claim that the “Thad Five” class of Greg Oden and Mike Conley and others may be better than this, but I disagree. Yes, that class got to a Final Four and a national championship game, but they did not show the dedication to this university like these kids have. Oden, Conley and Daequan Cook all left after their freshmen year. Othello Hunter left after his sophomore year. Only David Lighty stuck around for graduation.
This class has quite a list of accomplishments. An NIT championship their freshmen year, a heart-breaking first round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Siena their sophomore year, Big Ten regular season and tournament champions their junior and senior years, and losses in the Sweet 16 in each of their last two seasons.
Ohio State has always been a football school. Football runs through Buckeyes fans’ minds first and foremost. But with the rough patch that the program has hit over the past few months since “Tatgate,” Buckeye fans could put all the trouble in the football program out of their minds, 40 minutes at a time.
David Lighty: A True Buckeye
This team was fun to watch. They looked like they enjoyed playing basketball. And, perhaps most importantly, they looked like a team. The seniors had bonded over their four years together, and they took the young ones under their wing. These guys genuinely liked each other. There are times where teams do not hang out with each other outside of the locker room and practice court. This group of Buckeyes had fun.
This class changed me from a casual Buckeye basketball fan, to one resembling the person I become during Buckeye football games. During close Buckeye football games, I tend to pace back and forth while watching. During the final 5-10 minutes of the Kentucky game, I found myself to be doing the same thing. This told me something. Ohio State was no longer a football school with an ok basketball program. The basketball program had arrived.
The arrival began with Matt Sylvester’s game-winner over then undefeated and number one Illinois in Matta’s first season. That put Ohio State basketball on the map. But it was only because of an upset, and only for a short period of time.
I really began following Ohio State basketball late in the 2006-07 season. From the 49-48 victory over Wisconsin to the huge shot by Ron Lewis to force overtime against Xavier in the second round to the 20 point comeback against Tennessee in the Sweet 16 to the loss in the national championship game against Florida. I was upset, but not as upset as I was after the loss to Kentucky this year. I had nothing invested in that team. I hadn’t followed them for very long. I hadn’t grown emotionally attached to them.
After the NIT Championship season, I thought maybe this group could form something special. I saw this group in person for the first time at Dayton in the first round against Siena. In a game the Buckeyes should have won, they showed flashes of the excellence that would come over the next two seasons. That team was playing without David Lighty, arguably the best defender Thad Matta has ever had (future Aaron Craft may disagree, but he’s got three more years to prove himself.)
It took 5 years, but Days finally scored for OSU
In the 2009-10 season, like most Buckeye fans, I had my doubts after Evan Turner went down with a broken back. The rest of the team stepped up and showed that they could play without him, but they were a much better team with “The Villain” in the lineup. After he returned, Turner carried that team on his back, all the way to a Big Ten Championship and the Sweet 16. After the loss to Tennessee, Turner decided to enter the NBA Draft and wound up as the second overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Losing the National Player of the Year, no one could have foreseen the season the Buckeyes had this year. Instead, with a mix of veteran experience and young talent, Ohio State started the season with 24 straight victories and finished with a 34-3 mark. There’s no doubt this team liked to have fun, but once the lights were on and it was gametime, it was all business. They overlooked no one, playing every game as if it were their last.
I have to admit, it will be tough to watch the Buckeyes without the stifling defense of David Lighty, the 3-point sniping of Jon Diebler, the shot blocking ability of Dallas Lauderdale and I will miss the crowd chanting “Edd-ie! Edd-ie! Edd-ie!” whenever the Buckeyes get an insurmountable lead.
After all that, I only have one message for this group of seniors.