Finally, after taking official visits to all three finalists, it’s time for E.J. Liddell to make a decision — and Ohio State is right in the mix, if not the favorite.
The four-star forward has Illinois, Missouri and the Buckeyes in his top three entering Monday. A 6-foot-7, 220-pound power forward from Belleville, Illinois, Liddell is the No. 48 overall player in the nation, the 10th-best power forward and the top player in his home state.
Liddell, who has stayed silent about his recruitment since beginning to take visits to his three finalists, took an official visit to Ohio State on Aug. 31. One week later, he took his official visit to Missouri. Two weeks after that, he took his final official visit to see Illinois, his hometown school.
And now, it’s decision time. Liddell will announce his decision at 7 p.m. Monday (6 p.m. central).
It’s hard to overstate how big of a recruiting win snagging Liddell would be for Chris Holtmann, just a little more than one year removed from leaving Butler to take the Ohio State job.
Ohio State already has commitments from five-star guard D.J. Carton and four-star forward Alonzo Gaffney. Though both Gaffney and Liddell are long, 6-foot-9 wings, Holtmann wants as many lanky wings as possible, so both would fit on the Buckeyes if Liddell opted to commit to them.
A commitment from Liddell would give Ohio State three top-50 prospects — a five-star and two high four-stars — and bump its recruiting class up from No. 13 to No. 4 in the country, behind USC, Louisville and Kentucky. It would be the first time in nine years, since the Buckeyes landed Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Siebert, that they signed three top-50 prospects.
Even without Liddell, no recruiting class in the Big Ten has a higher-ranked group of 2019 prospects, so this would just strengthen its already top-ranked conference class. All three commitments would be higher-ranked prospects than the four the Buckeyes landed in their 2018 recruiting class, Holtmann’s first as head coach.
Ohio State has been involved in his recruitment for a while.
Holtmann’s program offered him a scholarship in January. Liddell has been in constant contact with the coaching staff since then. In April, Liddell tweeted out a photo of him standing with Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon, with the caption saying, “Great first home visit with Ohio State.”
On his official visit, Liddell attended the season-opening football game against Oregon State with the entire basketball team with Gaffney and Carton. The day Carton committed, he told Adam Zagoria of the New York Times that he’s trying to recruit Liddell to join him at Ohio State. Two-and-a-half months later, that might happen.
Ten of the 11 predictors on 247Sports expect Liddell to choose Ohio State.
Late Sunday night, four-star Zeke Nnaji announced his top-five schools. Though it could just be a coincidence that the Buckeyes were not in the mix for the 6-foot-11 2019 forward with offers from top-level programs, such as Arizona and Kansas, it might mean he knows the spot Ohio State was recruiting him for will not longer be open, as of 7 p.m. Monday night.
Ohio State’s recruiting “bread basket”
Liddell lives a 6-hour, 20-minute drive from Columbus, which puts him right in Ohio State’s “bread basket,” a term Holtmann referred to at media day on Wednesday to describe the program’s recruiting base.
Holtmann defined the “bread basket” as anywhere within a five-to-seven-hour radius of Columbus.
“That's really what is extremely important for us to recruit, and to recruit well,” Holtmann said. “It is this bread basket of five to seven hours where we can recruit in the midwest. Certainly, we want to recruit Ohio well. We really need to recruit Ohio, those two things together effectively. And then, occasionally, you'll go outside of those areas to recruit.”
There will “occasionally” be some “national guys” that Ohio State hopes to land, Holtmann said. Luther Muhammad, a freshman guard, hails from New Jersey and fellow freshman Jaedon LeDee is from Texas, well outside of the “bread basket.”
But, most of the team’s recruits live in the targeted area, especially in the 2019 class.
Liddell? Bread basket. Gaffney, who attended Garfield Heights High School until transferring to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire? Bread basket. Carton, a 7-hour drive from Columbus in Bettendorf, Iowa? Bread basket.
Ohio State’s successful first season under Holtmann that took nearly everyone by surprise didn’t necessarily give the program an edge in recruiting simply due to its finish in the conference and the NCAA tournament.
Holtmann said the two biggest positive impacts on the recruiting trail that came out of last season were the “validation” of his pitch to recruits and Keita Bates-Diop becoming the Big Ten Player of the Year.
“They don't get you a recruit,” Holtmann said. “But, they grab the attention of the families when they see the development of a player. But, at the end of the day, they're not doing the work for you.”