A Program in Flux or Just a Tough Month?

By Chris Lauderback on July 8, 2008 at 7:00 am
Pass the Advil

With most of the Buckeye faithful focused on a possible third straight crack at a pigskin national title, Thad Matta's hoops program has been flying somewhat under the radar. That's probably a good thing considering there's been much more bad news than good news of late, especially in comparison to what Tressel has goin' on across the Olentangy.

The latest cause for pause came on America's birthday as point guard Trae Golden informed rivals that he's no longer a 2010 verbal commit to Ohio state just in time for the July evaluation period.

Some say Golden might not have been the right fit as a scoring point guard and that Matta was looking at other PG's for 2010 but Golden was still a 4 star recruit ranked as high as 9th nationally by ScoutHoops.com. If anything, I think Matta was probably only looking to complement Golden by adding a point guard more content to distribute considering Matta had Golden's verbal since last October. Matta has also said he will continue to recruit the kid but it seems a longshot that will pan out.

Any way you slice it, Golden's decommit is just the latest bump in the road. Fortunately, none of these bumps have flipped the program but either I'm paranoid or this is a program that could use a dose of good news.

As you recall, it was just last week that a freakin' high school coach got loose on Matta for his alleged mishandling of Kosta Koufos during his one year at Ohio State reviving talk that Matta was to blame for the poor player/coach relationship. Worse yet, the same clown accused Matta of sandbagging Koufos' development in an effort to keep him in town another year. My take is that such accusations are BS but being called out by a high school hack like that is still not a good thing.

Along the same lines, the Koufos rumblings had legs with some fans who felt Matta also sandbagged the development of Crazy-Quan Cook who bolted to the NBA after his freshman season amid rumors of a strained player/coach relationship.

As with Koufos, I personally choose to believe that Cook also struggled with actually being coached, as opposed to enabled, and didn't quite know how to handle being challenged but you have to wonder how much these rumors infiltrate the mind of future recruits because I'm quite certain if the players aren't already of aware of the rumblings, the assistant coaches from other schools will be more than happy to clue them in.

One thing's for sure, as much as Matta's program has reaped benefits from going after the nation's best talent, it has also seen the pitfalls of doing so with the likes of Koufos, Cook, Oden and Conley spending just one year on campus. I'm sure other programs could throw out some pretty impressive lineups if players weren't allowed to turn pro after their freshman seasons but just imagine what the '07-'08 starting lineup could've been: Oden, Koufos, Cook, Butler and Conley with Turner, Hunter and Lighty off the pine!?!

To Matta's credit (imo), he continues to chase the nation's elite although his latest one and done candidate is a local in the form of Canal Winchester's 7'1" BJ Mullens. The true back to the basket center is already Chad Ford's #3 rated NBA prospect next year meaning more of the same for a team that seems to get younger by the season.

In fact, the team is so young that it will feature exactly zero seniors in '08-'09 leaving technically one available scholarship for 2009-10 campaign although Mullens will likely free up another. Also, remember Matta has one scholly available now but he might best be served to give that up in an effort to keep the NCAA at bay in the face of sketchy APR scores impacted by one and done's like Koufos that could likely cost the Buckeyes a scholarship down the line anyway.

The last bit of sting came over a week ago with the departure of longtime Matta assistant coach John Groce who left to take the reigns down in Athens. Again, not a huge problem standing alone but still another piece of potential adversity when you consider Groce had been with Matta at three different programs and did more than his fair share on the recruiting front. Some stability, however, could come with the rehire of former Matta assistant Brandon Miller.

All this is not to predict gloom and doom for Matta's program, only to summarize what has been a less than stellar period. The good news is that while low on frontline beef, the upcoming season will feature a young team with plenty of depth and talent on the wings that could generate a very exciting brand of basketball. That is good for fans and good for potential recruits as Matta looks to lead his team back the NCAA tournament after a one year hiatus. One thing is for sure, I like the guy's track record.

So, what do you think? Is the program on a down slide or just going through a tough stretch?