What E.J. Liddell's Commitment Means for Ohio State Basketball

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 1, 2018 at 7:25 pm
E.J. Liddell

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Ohio State has had the top recruiting class in the Big Ten for months, having landed five-star point guard D.J. Carton in July and and four-star forward Alonzo Gaffney in May

The Buckeyes were not quite done, though. 

Somehow, some way, Chris Holtmann added four-star forward E.J. Liddell to the already loaded class on Monday to give Ohio State three top-50 recruits for the first time since 2010, when Thad Matta landed Jared Sullinger (No. 4), Deshaun Thomas (No. 19) and Jordan Sibert (No. 41). 

Liddell's commitment came just a little over a month after he used his official visit on Ohio State. The Belleville (Illinois) West forward visited the Buckeyes before using official visits on Missouri and Illinois, his other two finalists. 

He will become the first Illinois native to play for Ohio State since last year's Big Ten Player of the Year, Keita Bates-Diop, who was in town during Liddel's official visit. Last week at Ohio State media day, Holtmann spoke about owning the recruiting "bread basket," everything within a five-to-seven-hour radius of Columbus. Liddell, the No. 48 overall prospect and the top-ranked native of Illinois in his class, is one of the top players in that range. So, too, are Gaffney (Garfield Heights) and Carton (Bettendorf, Iowa).

Pos DEPARTEES SENIORS JUNIORS SOPHOMORES INCOMING FRESHMEN 2019 RECRUITING CLASS
C KALEB WESSON
PF MICAH POTTER E.J. LIDDELL
SF JAE'SEAN TATE
KEITA BATES-DIOP (RS)
ANDRE WESSON KYLE YOUNG
MUSA JALLOW
JAEDON LEDEE
JUSTIN AHRENS
ALONZO GAFFNEY
SG KAM WILLIAMS (RS) JOEY LANE LUTHER MUHAMMAD
PG ANDREW DAKICH C.J. JACKSON
KEYSHAWN WOODS (GS)
CJ WALKER* DUANE WASHINGTON D.J. CARTON

On The Court

Liddell's size and physicality stand out immediately when watching the 6-foot-7, 220-pound power forward. He takes advantage of his size down low and blends that ferociousness with more-than-ample athleticism to give him an impressive inside-outside game.

As a junior last year, he averaged 20.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.

He's a versatile player who will fit into a Holtmann offense that can't have enough long, rangy athletes who are tall enough to defend forwards and play inside, yet quick and agile enough to play from the outside and blow by uncoordinated big men. 

On the defense, Liddell certainly doesn't slack off, a quality Holtmann searches for in players. 

“He just has a knack for blocking shots,” Belleville West coach Joe Muniz told the Chicago Tribune in March. “We teach kids not to go for the block because that will get you in foul trouble. But EJ’s timing and his long arms … I’ve never seen a high school kid do it like he can.”

In the spring, Liddell became the second non-senior player to be named Mr. Basketball in Illinois, following Chicago Bulls forward Jabari Parker who won the award in 2012.

Regarded as one of the best players to ever come out of his area, Liddell led his team to a successful season while playing well enough to pick up honors and acclaim for his play. Belleville West won its first state title in the spring behind Liddell, who leads the school in career points (1,759) with still another year to play.

"The bigger the game, the better they play, and No. 32 (Liddell) always rises to the occasion," Belleville West coach Joe Muniz told the News-Gazette in March.

In the class

The Buckeyes now have the best 2019 recruiting class in the Big Ten all but locked up for the second time in Holtmann's tenure. This time, though, the entire class was recruited by Holtmann. Ohio State also had the top-ranked class in 2017, but Kaleb Wesson, the highest-ranked recruit in the class, was committed to the program before Holtmann was hired.

Liddell's commitment bumped Ohio State's recruiting class up from 13th overall the the No. 4 class in the nation, significantly ahead of Michigan's, which ranks second in the conference and sits at No. 16. 

Liddell will join a frontcourt wrought with talent at the wings. Kyle Young, Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow, Andre Wesson and Gaffney should still be around when Liddell joins the team next year. He might have to jockey for playing time a bit more than if he had opted for Missouri or Illinois, but he'll likely play a large role on the Buckeyes immediately.

If Holtmann can continually recruit at the level he has in 2019 with Carton, Gaffney and, now, Liddell, Ohio State will become a fixture in the upper echelon of the Big Ten and, in time, could begin to challenge for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

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