Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State opened the week looking to complete its 2020-21 roster, and it did more than add just one final piece.
Three-star power forward Zed Key announced his commitment to Ohio State on Sunday, joining four-star wing Eugene Brown III in the team's 2020 class. Brown committed to play for the Buckeyes on Monday.
Now committed, Key becomes the latest addition to Ohio State's frontcourt.
On the Court
As a power forward who does most of his offensive damage in the paint, Key's game offers Ohio State a bit of an old-school post player with experience getting buckets close to the basket.
At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, Key doesn't necessarily have outstanding size, and he's not an overly explosive athlete. But he has a wingspan over more than seven feet, which he has shown an ability to maximize on both ends of the court.
Around the rim, Key has showcased nice touch and an ability to finish with both hands. At this point in his development, he has two general strengths – low-post scoring and rebounding – and has spent the past year working to extend his range, which doesn't yet reach the college 3-point line.
On a loaded Long Island Lutheran (New York) team, Key wasn't the sole star of his team, but he still averaged 15.9 points per game last season. His true breakout came in June at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, when he stood out among a roster loaded with top-flight prospects.
“He was a top-150 kid most of his high school career,” NY Jayhawks executive director and Long Island Lutheran assistant coach Jay David told Eleven Warriors in June. “Took a little bit of a step back last year. He's continued to be uber-talented and will probably stay that way. It's just that he's continued to work really, really hard and show his work ethic, and people are now seeing it. That stage that he was on is not a small stage. That's a big-time stage to be able to come on board and do the things that he was doing. I think it's just the fact that people were able to see him, able to see his new and improved changes.”
With his throwback offensive game and build, Key plays a fairly similar game to Kaleb Wesson, but he doesn't yet have the junior big man's shooting range.
Key also stands two inches shorter than Wesson. However, if Wesson leaves for the NBA after his junior season, Key could have to serve as the de-facto center in some lineups as early as his freshman season.
In The Class
The commitment of Key means – barring unexpected attrition in the next two months – Ohio State will "oversign" during the Early Signing Period in mid-November.
Teams are allowed 13 scholarship players, and since Andre Wesson is the only player graduating after the 2019-20 season, Ohio State currently has only one scholarship available in the 2020 cycle. However, it now has two commitments in that class: Key and Brown. Therefore, a player will either have to leave college early for the NBA or transfer in order for the team to remain at or under the 13-scholarship limit.
The addition of Key provides insurance if Kaleb Wesson opts to leave for the NBA after his junior season. Wesson put his name in the NBA evaluation pool this spring and opted to return to school, but it's rare that players go through that process a second time and once again choose to play another season in college.
Ohio State could also lose a player after the season to transfer, which has become increasingly common in college basketball. Holtmann's teams haven't been hit hard by transfers, though both Micah Potter and Jaedon LeDee left in the past year, so precedent exists.
Here's what the 2020-21 roster would look like with its 12 scholarship players and two commitments, provided nobody transfers or leaves early to the NBA – which, of course, is not a possibility:
- Point guard: CJ Walker (redshirt senior), DJ Carton (sophomore)
- Shooting guard: Luther Muhammad (junior), Duane Washington Jr. (junior), Eugene Brown III (freshman)
- Small forward: Musa Jallow (senior), Justice Sueing (redshirt junior), Justin Ahrens (junior)
- Power forward: Kyle Young (senior), E.J. Liddell (sophomore), Alonzo Gaffney (sophomore), Zed Key (freshman)
- Center: Kaleb Wesson (senior), Ibrahima Diallo (sophomore)
With Key committed, Ohio State is finished with the 2020 recruiting class – at least for the signing period this fall. If multiple players leave, either to transfer or go pro, the Buckeyes could consider adding an additional player in the spring.
If Kaleb Wesson decides to go pro, the possibility of adding a graduate transfer center would naturally increase. And if that didn't happen, the Buckeyes would turn to multi-forward frontcourts.
When Idols become Rivals. Amazing experience playing against NBA & College players at Pro Hoops Open run! #ItsTime #SeniorSeason @LuHiBasketball @NYJayhawks @spidadmitchell @KeyPlayerNation @HSBasketballBR @daves_joint @MitchellDeAnte @RealiLuvBBall #basketball pic.twitter.com/n91r73lmvY— Zed Key (@ZedBasketball14) August 8, 2019
Barring a major change in Key's game or advancement in his athleticism, he's a high-floor big man with what'll likely be a limited ceiling, which could keep him at Ohio State until he runs out of eligibility. He's likely a multi-year player who – though it's difficult to project in the modern era of college basketball – could turn into a four-year big man for Holtmann.
Holtmann frequently uses the same phrase about how "old" wins in college basketball. He refers to how teams with veteran players typically perform best. Key's not a high-ranking recruit, and he's far from a sure-fire NBA prospect. But he's somebody the coaching staff believes can develop into a quality college player.
Also, Key hails from New York, a state from which the Buckeyes don't regularly recruit, which signifies a trend of Holtmann looking throughout the country for talent.
Eugene Brown? Georgia. Luther Muhammad? New Jersey. Jaedon LeDee? Texas. Duane Washington Jr.? Michigan. Musa Jallow? Indiana. DJ Carton? Iowa. E.J. Liddell? Illinois. Ibrahima Diallo? California, and a Senegal native. Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney and Kyle Young? Ohio.
As a Glen Head, New York, native, Key's just the latest example of Holtmann traversing the country for talent. Ohio State is in line to bring in more in-state prospects in the next two classes, though, with strong 2021 and 2022 classes in Ohio that the Buckeyes have long targeted.