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?
Had this spring and summer not turned into a temporary dead period due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bruce Thornton would have had college coaches lining up beside courts to watch him thrive with The Skill Factory. The four-star point guard from Alpharetta, Georgia, had already collected well over a dozen scholarship offers, but even more would have poured in.
Yet Thornton didn’t really care about that.
The private, understated junior at Milton High School just wanted to get the process over with after building a bond he believed in with a college program’s coaches and buying into their plan to get him to the NBA. Allen Whitehart, Thornton’s high school basketball coach, constantly heard the same message from his lead guard: “Coach, I just want to play, man. I don't want all this craziness. I just want to play.”
Finally, that craziness has come to an end.
Thornton, the No. 30 overall prospect and seventh-ranked point guard in the 2022 cycle, committed to Ohio State on Thursday.
On The Court
Some people use the word “bulldog” to explain Thornton’s game. Whitehart chooses to call him a “pit bull.” It’s only a matter of time until somebody calls him a junkyard dog. Regardless, you get the point.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a tough, physical player who already has a college-ready body as a high school junior, with two more seasons remaining before he even gets to Columbus.
“Bruce is a specimen,” Whitehart told Eleven Warriors.
There’s a reason why he’s ranked among the two-and-a-half dozen best players in the country. He attacks the rim with ferocity and strength, and he facilitates at a high level. He can get shots by himself off the dribble, too. Ohio State was drawn to him because of his toughness, talent level and ability to run the team.
His decision-making as a point guard with the ball in his hands was described by somebody within the program as “elite.”
“If you put him in a pick-and-roll, you know he's going to make the right play,” Whitehart said. “He always does. He's been like that since he was a freshman.”
Whitehart said he’s a “consummate floor general” who “fills up the stat sheet” as the type of player that “affects winning” with everything he does.
As a Buckeye, Thornton will run the show the same way he does for Milton. He’s the point guard of the future, following Meechie Johnson.
“I think the way that coach Holtmann and Ohio State want to play, I think they think that Bruce, they can build what they need to build around him at the point guard position and all the pieces they're trying to bring in, like the Meechie kid who's coming in in January,” Whitehart said. “I think those kind of kids play off of Bruce really well. He can score it. I mean, he averaged 23 as a sophomore last year, but he also averaged seven rebounds, seven assists. He's a lockdown defender. I just think when you put other good players around him, he can just run the show and make sure everybody gets touches.”
In The Class
Almost a year before anybody their age can sign with a college program, Ohio State has landed a trio of 2022 commitments: Thornton, four-star shooting guard Roddy Gayle and three-star shooting guard Bowen Hardman. By locking those three down, Holtmann now has his backcourt of the future.
Once CJ Walker, Duane Washington Jr and Jimmy Sotos move on over the next couple of years, it'll be time for Malaki Branham, Johnson, Gayle, Hardman and Thornton to take over in the backcourt.
“Whatever needs to happen, he facilitates it happening, whether it's getting a teammate going or he'll lock you down on defense, sharing the ball, it doesn't matter,” Whitehart said.
With Thornton in the mix, here's a look at Ohio State's roster and scholarship distribution by year:
|PF||KYLE YOUNG||SETH TOWNS (RS)||E.J. LIDDELL||ZED KEY||KALEN ETZLER (2021)|
JUSTICE SUEING (RS)
MUSA JALLOW (RS)
|SG||–||DUANE WASHINGTON JR.||
MALAKI BRANHAM (2021)
BOWEN HARDMAN (2022)
RODDY GAYLE (2022)
CJ WALKER (RS)
|–||–||MEECHIE JOHNSON||BRUCE THORNTON (2022)|
With Johnson reclassifying to 2020 and enrolling at Ohio State in December, two signees in the 2021 class – Branham and Kalen Etzler – and a trio of 2022 commitments, Holtmann and his assistant coaches can afford to be judicious with which prospects they target.
The Buckeyes remain chasing after several big men in the 2021 cycle, including five-stars Efton Reid, Chet Holmgren and Charles Bediako. They'll have more than enough time to continue going after that trio. Ohio State's generally viewed as an underdog for Holmgren and Bediako, but it is in the mix for both and is one of the schools at the forefront of the case for Reid. The transfer portal might be the answer if the Buckeyes don't land any of those three.
To fill out the 2022 class, which likely will only have one more commit, the Buckeyes could secure either a forward or big man.
Also of note: Landing Thornton effectively takes the Buckeyes out of the running for other 2022 point guards, including Gahanna's Sean Jones and Cincinnati's Paul McMillan. Neither of them had offers, but both were being recruited by Ohio State.
Once again, Ohio State threaded the needle by picking up a commitment from a not-quite-a-five-star-but-he’s-close prospect. The coaches did so with Gayle, and they did it again with Thornton.
These types of out-of-state top-50 recruits who'll be around for multiple college seasons are the types of players who can alter a program's trajectory and turn it into a legitimate national contender. This was a huge recruiting victory for the Buckeyes, especially when considering two other Big Ten programs were in the mix.
“I know they loved Aaron Craft,” Whitehart said. “I told Diebler this. The way Ohio State loved Craft, wait until they get this kid.”
Along those lines, Thornton also appears to be a personality fit. He told Whitehart distance from his hometown in Georgia doesn't matter to him because his main priority is to play “at the highest level.”
“If you were to ask Bruce, 'What are you looking for?' he'll tell you immediately, 'I'm looking for teammates that work as hard as I do,'” Whitehart said. “He said if we've got that, the rest is going to take care of itself.”
Sounds like a Holtmann type of player, doesn't he?