Reasons to be excited about the future of the Ohio State basketball program are increasing by the day.
Following a five-day stretch in which the Buckeyes landed commitments from two four-star prospects and top-75 talents in Devin Royal and Scotty Middleton, the program’s 2023 class is now ranked third in the country, per 247Sports. Should it close as a top-10 class in the country, it would be Ohio State’s second straight.
Before 2022, it had been seven years since the Buckeyes could claim a class that ranked among the 10 best in the nation. The last such scarlet and gray cycle was the fifth-rated 2015 class, in which Thad Matta bought in five prospects ranked among the top 120 recruits in the country.
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Ohio State never reaped the benefits that a top-five class would suggest, though, as Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, A.J. Harris and Mickey Mitchell all transferred after their first year. JaQuan Lyle was the lone player of the bunch to remain by the start of the 2016-17 season, but even he left Columbus after his sophomore year.
It took until Holtmann’s second full recruiting cycle as head coach for Ohio State to even come close to another top-10 haul. The Buckeyes’ 2019 class ranked 14th in the nation with three top-50 prospects and four signees overall. That group produced E.J. Liddell, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and the face of the Buckeye program for the past two seasons. But much like 2015, the three other members of the class all eventually transferred out – including two (DJ Carton and Alonzo Gaffney) after just one season.
That result may have threatened to stall momentum on the recruiting trail for Holtmann and company. Ohio State’s next two classes ranked 48th and 49th in the country, respectively, as the Buckeyes brought in just five total high school recruits between those two years. But by landing Malaki Branham (No. 38 overall) in 2021, Ohio State got a one-and-done talent and first-round NBA draft pick whose immediate success is sure to help attract future recruits hoping for a similar trajectory.
Even before Branham became the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2021-22, Holtmann and assistant coaches Ryan Pedon and Jake Diebler – both instrumental in Ohio State’s recent recruiting success – had already constructed the Buckeyes’ best class on paper since the Matta era.
Ohio State’s five-man 2022 class, which finished eighth in the national rankings, includes a quartet of four-star prospects who were ranked among the top 65 players in the country: Roddy Gayle (No. 45), Bruce Thornton (No. 46), Felix Okpara (No. 61) and Brice Sensabaugh (No. 64).
Even before seeing the results on the hardwood, those metrics were a sign of momentum for the Buckeye coaching staff on the recruiting trail, and it hasn’t slowed down at all in 2023.
Ohio State’s first commit in the cycle was a top-level talent to build around, as a four-star guard and top-60 prospect George Washington III started things off this past November. Three months later, the Buckeyes landed a commitment from a top-five player in the state of Ohio with 6-foot-10 center Austin Parks joining the fold.
Nearly a six-month hiatus in commitments followed, but the next one was of particular significance for Holtmann, Diebler and the Buckeyes. Perhaps Ohio State’s top priority in the cycle, Royal announced this past week that he would remain close to his native Pickerington to don the scarlet and gray at the next level. That decision makes him Holtmann’s first Columbus-area recruit during his tenure at Ohio State, and could be a landmark commitment for landing other local talent moving forward.
Those three players alone moved the Buckeyes’ 2023 class into the top five nationally. But Sunday’s latest recruiting revelation only took things up another notch.
Middleton, a 6-foot-6 two-way wing out of Wichita, Kansas, could be the centerpiece of the entire class if his recruiting rank is any indication. Ranked 34th in the nation per the 247Sports composite, Middleton is now the most heralded commit in the Buckeyes’ 2023 class and the most highly rated Buckeye commit in any class since Carton in 2019. ESPN holds Middleton in even higher regard, pegging him as a five-star prospect ranked No. 18 overall.
While Ohio State may cap its 2023 class at four commits, there’s still a chance the scarlet and gray could bring in a fifth high school recruit to bolster its haul even further. One potential candidate to close things out is four-star Africentric wing Dailyn Swain, the No. 75 overall prospect in the class, who has long been a top target for the Buckeyes.
Swain was a teammate of Washington and Royal’s on the All-Ohio Red AAU team and placed the Buckeyes among his top five schools on Friday. Should the Buckeyes take Swain, they’d have commitments from the top three players in Ohio and four of the top five.
Middleton’s commitment may fill the Buckeyes’ need at the position given the similarity in body type and playing style between the two lengthy wings, but the opportunity to land another local recruit as talented as Swain may be too great to pass up.
If there’s any cause for caution as far as the excitement level of Ohio State fans, it may be the 2015 and 2019 recruiting classes, which ultimately disappointed after the initial promise. But given the culture Holtmann has continued to build and the consistency of the program in general, Ohio State’s rise in recruiting profile may be the final ingredient for a breakthrough.