Despite Vast NBA Losses, Matta Keeps Reloading at Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on April 6, 2014 at 6:00a

Transitioning comes frequently in the game of basketball. Each play involves switching from offense to defense and visa versa, and the fast break is one of the sport’s staples. For coaches, there’s constant evolution, be it roster changes or staff moves.

Thad Matta’s basketball life at Ohio State has been in constant transition for a decade.

For 10 seasons, he’s dealt with players leaving for the NBA, assistant coaches taking over their own programs and a heightened outlook from a fervent fan base. Aside from winning a national championship, Matta’s exceeded any and all expectations.

The Buckeyes’ basketball profile has been raised significantly, with the program on the cusp of being considered elite. They’ve won numerous Big Ten championships, 20 games for 10 straight seasons and advanced to two Final Fours. And Matta’s kept the train chugging despite losing 10 players to the pros.

“The thing you have to do is do the research,” Matta said. “I always want what’s best for our guys.”

Sometimes that’s advising them to chase their professional dreams. What’s been best for Matta is building his team through recruiting and then developing those players into contributors. Matta spent 11 seasons as an assistant – at Indiana State, Butler, Miami (OH) and Western Carolina – where exhausting days and weeks on the road meant learning tricks and secrets that would one day make him one of the top recruiters in the country.

There’s creativity – placing cutouts of the number 3 in an envelope for deadeye shooters – and being chic. Matta famously sets the radio in his car to hip-hop stations to impress prospects, giving off a cool vibe. With 17- and 18-year-old kids, the coolness factor can’t be underestimated. At 46, Matta must still possess a certain youthful air, even though he admits to not knowing what Twitter is or how it functions. But a fun brand of basketball is a universal language.

After a 25-10 season, there are murmurs that Matta’s lost his touch. Recent recruiting classes lacked the zing observers have grown familiar with. Then Matta signed another top-10 class for the 2014-15 season. The newcomers grew more impressive with the announcement that Temple power forward Anthony Lee, a graduate transfer, would enroll at Ohio State.

“It’s always a numbers game in terms of what we’re trying to do,” Matta said. “I feel like were in great position. The biggest thing is you go out in the summer and watch the guys who are committed and you leave the gym happy, and that’s how I was. I could not be happier about that.”

The latest haul is Matta’s sixth class to be ranked in the top 10, including his third in the top five. The Thad Five in 2006 served as the crowning achievement, with 2010’s group, highlighted by Jared Sulinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, close behind. Now comes the latest statement, a four-man recruiting class headlined by five-stars D’Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop.

“It’s funny,” said Jerry Meyer, 24/7 Sports national basketball recruiting editor, “some people across the country are quick to doubt Thad and his ability to recruit. Yet, he typically brings in some great classes.

“It’s always a numbers game in terms of what we’re trying to do. I feel like we’re in great position.”– Thad Matta

“Ohio State is one of the top programs in the country. The stability and the consistency they have there has been impressive. Going into every year, I assume they could be a Final Four contender. Maybe they need a little bit of a punch here or a spark there as far talent infusion to be a team you think can win a national championship.”

Continuously replenishing talent is how Matta’s won 275 games at Ohio State, second only to Fred Taylor, and appeared in eight NCAA Tournaments. In March, LaQuinton Ross and Amedeo Della Valle joined a list that features Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, Byron Mullens, Evan Turner, Sullinger and Thomas – players who’ve taken their talents to the NBA (or Europe) early. Sometimes three years premature.

The ensuing reclamation project will be one of the toughest of Matta’s career. It’s made easier by the incoming freshmen, but Ohio State must replace its top three scorers and top rebounder from last season, as well as Aaron Craft, whose value is unquantifiable.

“You look at his career, in my mind, in the 10 years I’ve been at Ohio State, he’s going down as one of the greatest players ever to put on the scarlet and gray,” Matta said of Craft after losing to Dayton. “I’d live and die with that kid any day of the year.”

Sam Thompson and Amir Williams are the lone returning starters, though Williams’ status is iffy due to Lee’s impending arrival. Thompson, Shannon Scott and Marc Loving will be leaned on in the non-conference schedule, if not the duration of the season. But Russell and Bates-Diop, young as they are, will shoulder much of the load on offense.

Russell, 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, is the total package at guard. The McDonald’s All-American finished with 11 points and four assists in the annual all-star game last week, offering Buckeye fans a glimpse of the future.

“The first time I ever saw him play, he had six threes in the first half, and in the second half, he didn’t take one. But he probably had 10 assists,” Matta said. “He’s just got something about him.

“He’s got the ability to make big time plays with the ball in his hands.”

Bates-Diop is a 6-foot-7, 190-pound stretch 4 whose length and athleticism makes him an exceptional player. His all-around game could present headaches even for veteran Big Ten teams. He can play near the baseline or beyond the three-point line. Bates-Diop’s shooting range is what makes defending him so difficult.

“He scores, he passes, he rebounds, he can defend, he can handle the basketball,” Matta said.

In 2006, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten title and earned a No. 2 seed behind the play of conference player of the year Terrence Dials and complementary pieces such as Je’Kel Foster and J.J. Sullinger. They lost in the national championship game the next season thanks to the best recruiting class in school history.

Suddenly, Ohio State basketball entered the national consciousness. Credit Matta with the assist.

Oden, Conley and Cook left the Buckeyes after one year. Even though the following season was Ohio State’s last without an NCAA Tournament berth, it won the NIT when Koufos dominated the competition. Evan Turner’s defection came two years later after national player of the year honors. But Matta already learned how to replace superstars by then.

“Thad runs a great program and they are always a contender every year,” Meyer said.

Coaches double as salesmen, and few have higher return rates than Matta. He’s turned a football school into one that also craves basketball. It’s now a destination program – for coaches and players.  Braxton Miller wanted to play for the Buckeyes, and so too did Jared Sullinger.

When Matta’s time at Ohio State comes to a close, a long line will form outside the athletic director’s office.

“We’ve always been blessed to attract good people,” said Gene Smith. "I think now our opportunities are unlimited. [Ohio State’s] a great place where we can attract top talent and retain it.”


Comments Show All Comments

PhillyBuckeye27's picture

Dear Thad,

As a lifelong Ohio State hoops fan, please don't listen to the sometimes irrational (and certainly spoiled) "supporters" of the program. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE feel free to stick around for another decade of excellence.  It has been a great ride and I am looking forward to many more years!

+18 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

I'm all for 2 more decades.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

+6 HS
wyatt's picture

I still want Myles Turner.

+9 HS
bucksfan92's picture

Thad Matta is far and away the best thing tp happen to OSU basketball since 1960.  He will win national titles here, it is just a matter of time, and he has plenty of that.  I expect him to be here for the next 20 years, and there is nobody in the country I would choose over Matta to be our coach.  He not only is a student of the game, he is a mater recruiter and can put together a championship team with any combination of pieces. 

+12 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

We all want Myles Turner.  Thanks for your hard work coach.  I hope you find a good doctor for your spine. Your own good health helps us as well.  We want to keep you as long as we can and your players as long as they want to stay.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

+7 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

It does not matter that  "we" want Turner. What DOES matter with Taylor and the other top 20 players in every class is does Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville want them. If they do Matta/Ohio State doesn't stand a chance.

buckeyestu's picture

I hope Thad Matta is our coach for a very long time, for as long he feels like coaching. I would not trade Matta for any other coach.

+6 HS
Kingbuck12's picture

Not only is Thad Matta a great coach and recruiter,  his program is squeaky clean. There is something to say about that. Total class act. 20 more years please. 


+5 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

All that and winning 20 games or more every year. Knocking Illinois from the ranks of the unbeaten his first year gave us a tease to what was to come.

+1 HS
BHT's picture

Thad Matta may have had his down years, and not so good recruiting classes, but I have never been on the fire Matta bandwagon. I one looks at all he has done in the last 10 years and compare it to before Thad Matta, it's clear he is the best coach, or second only to Fred Taylor, for Ohio State basketball. I have said it before and will say it now, I hope he stays until he retires and I hope he never retires. Good luck next season, and bring us the national championship. I know you will, coach Matta.

+2 HS
alust2013's picture

I think part of the reason people get on Matta's back about a down year here or there is because we are used to football, where there are a lot more available players, and replacing one player on a basketball team is like replacing four or more on a football team (1/5 of a lineup vs 1/22). Basketball is just a more volatile sport in general, where Kentucky can not get to the sweet sixteen from 2006-2009, then do really well in 2010-11, dominate the tournament and win it all in 2012, and then lose in the first round of the NIT the next year, only to be back in the title game another year later. Plus, Ohio State fans were spoiled by the crazy number of BCS bowls that we went to in that era, which was way more than anyone else.

...and Michigan still sucks.

BuckeyeRealist13's picture

Coach Matta really needs to embrace Twitter as a recruiting tool. I'm not one of those fans who think he has "lost his touch" he is still one of the best recruiters and coaches in the nation, but I believe recruits LOVE the attention they get from Twitter. I also believe that is one of the tactics that is helping James Franklin so much as PSU, that "cool" factor that comes along with having a Twitter account. 

"You're damn right thats daddy" - Urban Meyer 

pdan46's picture

Agree 100%.  Matta is terrific and I hope that he is our HC for as long as he wants to be here.  

I know people are clamoring for Turner, but realistically I would settle for the transfer, Thompson, plus Daniel Giddens in 2015.  What are the odds of getting either or both of those guys?

And, for the second time, how do I up vote or down vote other's comments? I am fairly new to the site.

+3 HS
BHT's picture

You need to have at least 100 helmet stickers to vote.

+1 HS
pdan46's picture
+3 HS
rightfield's picture

Matta is a class act that  has done the unthinkable (as of 10 years ago), made Ohio State a top 10 contender annually. Not just riding a few shooting stars for a couple good years and then dropping off the map again. Matta has made B1G championships a yearly expectation, a deep Tourny run possible yearly and 20 win seasons automatic. This along with players going pro EVERY year, future pros on the roster and McD  AA coming in regularly.

   None of this was happening BT (Before Thadd).  I am so thankful that Thad has settled in here and made this program his Legacy. As I have said before on here, there will be a statue of Matta outside the Schott within  the next 10 years.

Its good to be the king

+5 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

In Thad We Trust.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+2 HS
d5k's picture

I watched a bit of Russell play with his powerhouse high school team and he was just constantly fluid and efficient, breaking down the defense and making them pay with his jumper if they let him.

osubuckeye4life's picture

I wouldn't trade Matta for anyone.

He will get his title eventually.

chowoon97's picture

I love a Good Guy, named Thad Matta.