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Caleb Furst had to leave Columbus early on Sept. 22. He couldn’t stick around the entire day since he had to get back to Fort Wayne, Indiana, that night for his brother’s high school soccer senior night game, but he returned home with something no out-of-state prospect in his class had: a scholarship offer from Ohio State.
While on his first visit to the university, Furst became the second prospect in the class of 2021 to earn a scholarship from Chris Holtmann’s staff, following Garfield Heights guard Meechie Johnson who picked up an offer in 2017. It ensured the Buckeyes will make him a priority as his recruitment progresses.
“They've showed up to multiple games of mine, open gyms this past fall,” Furst told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. “Just reaching out, having me call them every so often, stuff like that.”
Furst, a four-star prospect, is the No. 31 overall player and the eighth-ranked power forward in the class of 2021. The 6-foot-10 recruit holds offers from Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, Butler and Northwestern, and other Big Ten powers, including Michigan and Michigan State, have shown interest. He attends Blackhawk Christian School, which he led to its first-ever state title this spring.
Ohio State has hosted Furst on campus twice in the past seven months. The Buckeyes had him in town in March, and he watched in person as they nearly pulled off a comeback against Wisconsin on senior night.
“They're a great program,” Furst said. “You can tell that the coaches are really tightly knit, as well as the players. It's a real community over there. They really emphasize playing hard and playing smart.”
Assistant coach Terry Johnson, who Furst called “super high energy” and a “great teacher of the game,” has spent a healthy amount of time recruiting him for Ohio State.
Johnson has a decade and a half of experience coaching in the state of Indiana, but Furst said that hasn’t arisen much in their discussions. Instead, they’ve talked about how he might fit into their current program’s future plans.
“They said they (like) what I kind of like about my game,” Furst said. “They like that I can go inside and out. My motor. Just my ability to kind of stretch the floor a little bit. They said they like my defense as well, which is something I've really been trying to work on, guarding one through five.”
Already 6-foot-10, 215 pounds, Furst might eventually have the height and weight combination to play center, but as of now, he and college coaches he has talked to view him as a power forward who can score from both inside and outside, otherwise known as a stretch four.
Some big men as tall as him can tend to plod as they run, but Furst has always been large for his age group, crossing the 6-foot mark in fifth grade and dunking in seventh grade, so he has made a long-term concerted effort to become mobile with his long, lanky frame. Getting out in transition has become his favorite aspect of his game.
“When I was younger, my coach told me that the difference between a big dude getting a scholarship or not is his ability to run the floor,” Furst said. “So I just really took that to heart. That's been one of my main focuses ever since I started playing.”
His most recent focus, though, has been to add muscle, a point of emphasis dating back to last summer.
Furst weighs 215 pounds at 6-foot-10 now, but not too long ago he stood 6-foot-9 and weighed 195 pounds. Increased time in the weight room, beginning with an average of five sessions a week last summer, led to him packing on about 20 extra pounds.
“I could just feel myself getting pushed around in the post,” Furst said. “I wanted to be the hammer instead of the nail.”
He said he feels that aspect of his development has progressed well, but he wants to continue to get stronger and eventually find an optimal balance of weight and explosiveness.
Furst will continue to make those adjustments while playing up an age group for the Indy Heat at the 17U level in the Nike EYBL.
“I'm doing it so I feel like I'll really be challenged and it'll help prepare me for being ready to play against the next level of competition in college and stuff like that,” Furst said.
John Hugley’s development stems from weight loss
When Ohio State target John Hugley entered high school, Brush coach Chet Mason felt confident he’d have a chance to play Division-I basketball if he developed properly, and that began with watching his weight.
Hugley, a four-star prospect who stands 6-foot-9, entered high school somewhere around 310 or 315 pounds, Mason recalled. At the time, his future in basketball was clear: He’d play center. But over the past couple years, he has worked to slim down, cutting out juices in favor of water, eliminating pork from his diet and dedicating himself to conditioning and the weight room. Now, Mason said, Hugley weighs around 257-260 pounds.
Mason said the weight loss, even in the past couple months after Hugley’s season ended, would impress those who saw him play as a junior and has led to colleges wondering whether he’s a power forward at the next level instead of a center.
“It's kind of crazy now because what he's developing into is different from what coaches might've seen last year or the year before that when he was just on the post – great post moves, great hands,” Mason told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. “But he actually dropped weight. Now he's more explosive finishing around the rim, step out shoot the 3. He will push the ball a little bit for us, start the break this year for us. He's just developing into something where people used to have him tagged as a straight five. Coaches coming in recently have been seeing a lot of four in him.”
Holtmann has seen Hugley in person twice in 2019 – once on Feb. 5 for one of Brush's games and again on April 11.
Mason said he hasn’t talked to Ohio State about whether the coaching staff views Hugley as a power forward or center, but the comparison to Kaleb Wesson has arisen. Similarly to Hugley, Wesson has lost significant weight while becoming a more dynamic offensive player.
“When John plays, you kind of see the comparison,” Mason said. “Kaleb is one of the best in the Big Ten right now. That's a good thing.”
Ohio State hasn’t extended an offer to Hugley, and Mason said it’s impossible to know whether one will materialize, but he said he sees him on the “verge” of high-major offers.
Pittsburgh has pursued Hugley the hardest, talking to him every day. Nebraska, Xavier, Dayton and Penn State have offered and kept in close contact with him. Michigan State, which is heading to Brush soon to watch him work out, and West Virginia also have shown interest, Mason said.
Mason has a familiarity with Ohio State's coaching staff since Pedon was on staff at Miami (Ohio) when he played for the Red Hawks. He said Pedon pushed him daily to reach a "higher level" of basketball. Now, Pedon is interested in one of his players.
“It's a good thing,” Mason said. “You're actually talking to somebody that you can actually trust, that you know. It's different.”
The Keon Johnson-Jake Diebler Connection
Ohio State has a chance to benefit from connections Jake Diebler made as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt on the recruiting trail.
Over the past year, Diebler built a strong relationship with Keon Johnson, a four-star, 6-foot-5 shooting guard and the No. 32 overall player in 2020. He’s a Bell Buckle, Tennessee, native and the top prospect in his state. When Vanderbilt fired Bryce Drew and hired Jerry Stackhouse, Johnson explained to Rivals how much keeping Diebler as on the staff would help the Commodores in their recruitment of him.
“(Diebler) has a strong bond and relationship with me, my mother and father,” Johnson told Rivals a week ago. “If coach Diebler stays then (Drew's firing) won't hurt Vanderbilt at all. If they don't, then it will be back to the ground up.”
Of course, Stackhouse did not retain Diebler, and Chris Holtmann hired him as an assistant coach.
Diebler’s relationship with Johnson could eventually pay dividends for Ohio State instead. Johnson told Endless Motor Sports that Ohio State will visit him at some point this week. The Buckeyes had contacted Johnson before the hire of Diebler, and that should pick up with him on the staff.
Tracking the staff
Ohio State’s net 2020 targets is wide – really, really wide. The Buckeyes, who don’t have any commitments in the class, hit the road hard this week.
Coaches made stops in Minnesota to see four-star center Dawson Garcia and four-star forward Dain Dainja, per Ryan James of Prep Hoops and Jake Weingarten of Stockrisers. Garcia is the No. 30 overall player in 2020, and Dainja ranks 51st. Garcia holds an offer from the Buckeyes, and Dainja has not reported one.
The Athletic’s Bill Landis reported Holtmann and Pedon also visited four-star center Zach Loveday, who made a mid-junior season move from Gallia Academy to Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Loveday is the No. 52 overall prospect in 2020, and he holds an Ohio State offer.
70 Zach Loveday 4 2020 F/C Huntington Prep (WV)
Newly added lower body strength has enabled him to fight for deep post position + rebounding ability.
Shooting 65% fg, 38% 3pt, 80% ft
Paired with a fluid, polished skill set, his stock could rise this spring/summer pic.twitter.com/Qhxzv4S6Dy
— Wildcats Select (@WILDCATselect) April 23, 2019
Rivals reported Ohio State met with four-star Henry Coleman, a native of Richmond, Virginia, on Monday. He’s a 6-foot-6, 190-pound small forward and the No. 46 overall prospect in 2020. He has not reported an offer from the Buckeyes. While in Virginia, the Buckeyes reportedly met with Mark Williams, a four-star center from Norfolk. He’s the No. 47 overall player and the sixth-rated center in his class.
Holtmann visited five-star 2021 guard Max Christie on Tuesday morning, Stockrisers reported. Montverde Academy’s Moses Moody (No. 36 overall, No. 8 shooting guard) and Cade Cunningham (No. 8 overall, No. 3 small forward) also received visits from Holtmann on Tuesday, per Stockrisers.
— Rona Moody (@MzRMoody) April 24, 2019
Ohio State stopped in Georgia to visit four-star big man Ebenezer Dowuona, then met with Jabari Smith, a four-star forward in the class of 2021. Smith is the No. 33 overall prospect and, at 6-foot-8, 190 pounds, is the ninth-rated power forward.
Looking at in-state prospects
Though the coaching staff has begun to scour the country in pursuit of its targets, Ryan Pedon stopped by a couple Ohio high schools this week, as first reported by Bill Landis of The Athletic.
He visited Convoy Crestview, which four-star forward Kalen Etzler attends. Etzler (6-foot-8, 195 pounds) is the top 2021 prospect in Ohio and a top-50 overall recruit in his class. Ohio State has not yet extended an offer to him, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that happen in the near future. Etzler’s uncle, Doug, played for the Buckeyes in the 1990s, and his brother, Javin, is a Miami (Ohio) signee.
— Kalen Etzler (@kalen_etzler24) March 14, 2019
Pedon also made a stop at Centerville to see Mo Njie, a three-star center in the class of 2020. Njie, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound big man, is the No. 243 overall prospect and the seventh-ranked prospect in his class. He holds offers from Dayton, Xavier, Toledo and Providence. Ohio State has not offered him a scholarship.
Two weeks ago, with two scholarships for the 2019-20 season remaining open, Chris Holtmann said Ohio State planned to add just one more player with eligibility next season. Three-star center Ibrahima Diallo’s commitment filled that spot. However, his addition didn’t end the possibility of using the other scholarship on someone who would have to sit out the 2019-20 season.
Holtmann expressed an interest in pursuing transfers who would have to sit out a season, and Ohio State has recently been linked to a few of them.
The Buckeyes have reached out to possible Nevada transfer Jordan Brown, per Evan Daniels of 247Sports. Last season as a freshman, the 6-foot-11, 210-pound forward averaged three points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game. He entered Nevada as a McDonald’s All-American and the No. 19 overall prospect in the class of 2018. Ohio State will have to battle a hefty list of suitors, including Kentucky and Arizona. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
California transfer Justice Sueing has also heard from Ohio State and could potentially visit Columbus soon, Corey Evans of Rivals reported. Sueing (6-foot-7, 215), who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, averaged double-digit points in both seasons with the Golden Bears. He had 14.3 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals in 34.5 minutes per game as a sophomore last season. San Diego State, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall also are after Sueing, per Evans.
Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks has emerged as another possible Ohio State target, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported. Brooks, who would have one season of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2019-20 season, is a 6-foot-11, 240-pound center. As a starter last season, he averaged 8.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 22.9 minutes per game.
Northeastern guard Shawn Occeus (6-foot-4, 208 pounds) is another sit-one, play-one option for the Buckeyes, per Rothstein. As a junior last season, Occeus averaged 9.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 26.5 minutes per game. He’s known for his defensive prowess and was named the Colonial Athletic Association defensive player of the year as a sophomore. He would have been in contention for the award again last season, but he played just 15 games due to injuries. Rothstein reported Miami and Florida Atlantic also have contacted Occeus.
Buckeyes Make Cut For Justin Lewis
Ohio State made an appearance in four-star Justin Lewis’ final-10 schools on Friday.
— Justin Lewis (@jusbuckets_5) April 20, 2019
Lewis, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound power forward, is the No. 133 overall player in the class of 2020. He attends Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Maryland.
Connecticut, Maryland, Purdue, Marquette, Central Florida, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Seton Hall and West Virginia were the other schools in his top 10. Though Lewis included the Buckeyes among them, it’s fair to view them as a longshot, especially since he hasn’t publicly announced Ohio State has extended a scholarship offer.
Back in consideration?
On Feb. 12, four-star small forward Che Evans released his top six, including Ohio State. However, a month later, he told The Grind that he eliminated the Buckeyes from contention "due to choice of conference and style of play."
It seems, though, the Buckeyes have made themselves a player in his recruitment again. Adam Zagoria reported Ohio State is one of the six teams Evans is considering. The change can likely be attributed to Evans' relationship with Diebler. The Buckeyes replaced Vanderbilt in his top six.
Evans, the No. 136 overall prospect, holds an offer from Ohio State. At 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, he's the No. 30 small forward in his class. Florida, TCU, Texas Tech, Boise State and Oregon State are his other finalists, per Zagoria.
Meechie Johnson’s recovery begins
Ohio State made four-star Meechie Johnson of Garfield Heights one of its first targets in the class of 2021, offering him a scholarship before he had ever even played a single varsity game.
He drew considerable interest from other Big Ten powers throughout his sophomore year, but injury struck, and he suffered a torn ACL in March. Johnson had surgery on March 13 and has begun the recovery process.
— Demetrius Johnson (@HWBBall15) April 23, 2019
Johnson will miss the entire AAU season and will return to action at some point during his junior year at Garfield Heights.
Alonzo Gaffney plays in Jordan Brand Classic
Four-star Ohio State signee Alonzo Gaffney got a chance to play in the Jordan Brand Classic alongside some of the top prospects in the class of 2019. He had 12 points, including a couple 3-pointers and dunks.
Some moments from Ohio State-bound Alonzo Gaffney in the Jordan Brand Classic. He had 12 points in his team’s 132-125 loss. pic.twitter.com/2ZLqfXZAyt
— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) April 21, 2019
DJ Carton: Dunk Champ
When Carton leaps, he doesn't look much like the 6-foot-1 guard he is.
On Wednesday, he captured the Iverson Classic dunk contest title.
— Overtime (@overtime) April 25, 2019
He's just different athletically than most players his size. Carton and CJ Walker are expected to man the point guard position for the Buckeyes next season.