After 'Unacceptable' Year, Vacation to Bahamas is All About Business, Bonding

By Patrick Maks on August 6, 2014 at 1:05p
16 Comments

In the postgame press conference following an embarrassing loss to Penn State last January, former guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. held back tears while trying to make sense of how previously undefeated Ohio State lost its fifth game in six tries.

"This game, this hurts the most out of every game since I've been at Ohio State … We just gotta get back to being a team, wanting to win,” he said while his voice cracked and quivered.

“This is embarrassing. Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now, they're on top of the world. As a team, I don't think we care enough. These losses don't hurt enough."

It was as frank as any assessment offered during an erratic and weird campaign that ultimately ended in a first-round loss to Dayton in March – the team’s shortest stay in the NCAA Tournament since 2009. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise reason why the Buckeyes struggled last year, but there are some plausible theories.

The first is how they lacked true NBA talent on their roster compared to teams of the past that featured players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger, and Deshaun Thomas. The second is how they couldn’t shoot the ball well on a consistent basis and how their best scorer, LaQuinton Ross, was streaky and, at times, disengaged. The third defect was a nonexistent inside presence as Amir Williams and Trey McDonald struggled mightily against superior competition. 

The Big Ten, one of the nation’s toughest leagues, exposed Ohio State for what it was last season – a good, not great, team with a handful of fatal flaws.

Without program stalwarts like Smith Jr. and all-everything Aaron Craft leading the way anymore, there’s a different feel to the program when you walk inside the Schottenstein Center. But expectations, of course, remain the same for the 2014-15 Buckeyes.

“The goal hasn’t changed. The goal is a Big Ten championship and a national championship,” senior forward Sam Thompson said Monday. “We know that what we did last year was unacceptable.”

That’s awfully harsh. After all, it’s not like Ohio State was bad last year. It finished 25-10 and stood toe-to-toe with some of the best teams (Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State) in the country on a nightly basis. 

Something always felt missing with this team, though, and it was far more than just the need for shooters or better play in the paint. The Buckeyes were a tightly-knit group, sure. But they looked curiously discombobulated on the court. Rarely did Thad Matta's squad jell from start to finish.

“We know that what we did last year is not something this program is built on,” Thompson said. “The guys before us did such a good job building the culture, and we really did not uphold that culture last year. We know that we have our work cut out for us to get back to the winning ways of Ohio State and play the game the right way.”

It starts with a five-day trip to the Bahamas to play two games against local teams in the “Summer of Thunder,” a series of scrimmages involving crews like Kentucky, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Barring something crazy, all should roll through their overmatched competition pretty easily.

It’s why it’s easy to call this excursion more or less a pretty incredible vacation before the grind of fall semester starts up in a couple of weeks.

But if Ohio State – which features four talented freshmen still learning the ropes wants to recommit itself to a culture that was apparently lost last season, now is an ideal time to do so. They’re on island far away from the day in and day out distractions of life in Columbus.

“We have two games and we have a practice down there. Those three times that we’re in the gym, it’s all business,” Thompson said.

“We have an opportunity to play against some opponents that don’t have Ohio State written across their chest. We’re going to take full advantage of it even though it’s before the season starts. We want to get out of this trip as much as we possibly can.”

Setting a bar for what's acceptable and what's not will take priority No. 1. 

16 Comments

Comments

simpson203's picture

I love hearing Buckeye basketball players saying "25-10 is unacceptable."  Basketball school?

+14 HS
ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

There was a time when 25-10 and an NCAA tournament berth was considered a good season here.  Now, a season like that is essentially crap.  The bar has been risen.

Class of 2010.

+8 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture

+1 to the last two comments. Was thinking the same thing as I read the article. There was a time when last year's record would have been a great success!

How Firm Thy Friendship

ibuck's picture

Given the shooting, leadership, and level of buy-in of last year's squad, 25 wins was a great accomplishment by Matta & staff. During that losing streak, I wondered if they would get to 20 wins.  And now Matta has tweaked some things to improve buy-in (acceptance of coaching).

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

thatlillefty's picture

I don't know who to 'blame', but we just didn't have the chemistry last year. It certainly sounds like Sam has his head on straight. Hopefully, he will provide senior leadership to the new crop of freshmen.

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

I don't think there WAS anyone to blame, it just wasn't the right mix of talents. As you said, we just didn't have the chemistry, and we actually managed to overcome a lot of our weaknesses. Not always, but as the writer indicated, we actually played our best against the best competition we faced.

I'm with you, I'm counting on Sam and Shannon Scott to lead this year's team, a team that on paper seems to have far more strengths than weaknesses.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

TobyMagic's picture

Really excited to see the fresh faces.. Hope D Russ can be an elite guard right away.. Hope Marc Loving had (is having) a great summer.. Bigs need to take a giant leap, all starts now! New year, new team!

+2 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

1. they couldn't shoot. CHECK! Kam Williams and De'Angelo Russell can certainly shoot, I'm positive that Loving will become more consistent and KBD is capable as well. I think this team will have scorers and shooters in the starting lineup and bench. I would be more concerned if this team will be close to the defenses of the past couple of years (The Craft effect)

2. No inside Presence. CHECK. Lee is all about inside presence and post scoring. He is also a solid rebounder. Replace Ross with a guy who prefers to bang inside over hanging around the 3pt line will be a breath of fresh air. And maybe he will help Amir figure something out too, maybe. I also like David Bell as a guy who might develop enough in one year to be another piece come tourney time. Kid is active around the glass and has grown into a big boy! I think there will be more length on the court with KBD as well and I also saw enough of Loving's defense to feel he can be a nice shot blocker in help situations (coming over for the double). I just hope I see an offensive post move from anyone other than Amir. Ross was allergic of the post up!

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+2 HS
BuckeyeSouth's picture

I just hope I see an offensive post move from anyone other than Amir.

 Amir had post moves?  JK, kind of.  Amir does have skills & moves but his aloofness seems to negate whatever positives he has in his game.  I sure hope he took some classes in intensity over the summer.

Embrace it.

+2 HS
ibuck's picture

Kam Williams and De'Angelo Russell can certainly shoot, I'm positive that Loving will become more consistent and KBD is capable as well.

We'll see if their shooting is immediately effective vs B1G defenses. It took Diebler a while to get it going, though later he was phenomenal. Here's hoping for fast starts for multiple current Buckeye hoopsters.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

SpielmanForPres's picture

Thad Matta has changed how fans perceive Buckeye basketball since his arrival. The solid recruiting, the final 4s, the B1G championships. Last season was painful to watch at times because of what I'd come to expect. Looking forward to greater successes. 

kc_buck's picture

NBADraft.net currently has Amir Williams as the 44th pick in a 2015 mock-draft while Sam Thompson is 47th and Shannon Scott is 49th.  Do any, or all, of these seem too high to you?

WC Buckeye's picture

No way Amir goes any higher than Thompson or Scott if he performs this year like he did last year. If he doesn't improve he might even go undrafted.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

GreatLakesMike's picture

So excited to see this year's recruiting class. 

TMac511's picture

I was wondering who was going to be the vocal leader after Aaron Craft and Lenzelle left. I'm glad that someone with some playing experience like Sam Thompson has stepped up (or maybe he was the only guy interviewed?). I'd like to see the same out of Shannon Scott, seeing as how he is our new floor general. Excited to watch these freshmen along with Sam Thompson banging on some dudes!