Kam Williams is afraid to miss a shot in practice for fear of what comes next.
“If I miss a shot short,” Williams said Thursday at Ohio State’s media day, “It’s, ‘That’s how you end up in the NIT!’
“Every single day.”
That message, of course, would be coming from Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta and it has been done to serve as a reminder of what Ohio State doesn’t want to happen again for the 2016-17 season.
The Buckeyes missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight seasons last year as they slogged through an up-and-mostly-down non-conference slate before Big Ten play even began. Ohio State won 11 games in the conference, but in the end, it simply wasn’t enough to make the big dance. The Buckeyes were eliminated by Florida in the second round of the NIT.
Ohio State players say their coach reminds them of last year with almost every chance he has leading up to this season's first official practice, which is Sunday.
“Us as a team, we don’t really talk about it, but coach Matta brings it up,” sophomore point guard JaQuan Lyle said. “Coach Matta probably brings it up every day.”
What’s the message?
“We’re not doing that again,” Lyle said.
Matta admitted some of his methods — such as the comment on a missed Williams jump shot in practice — have been a bit over the top, but that’s by design. “My sarcasm doesn’t work with some guys as much as it does others,” he joked.
But the point is to drive last year’s struggles home to this team so they don’t go through the same experiences.Ohio State returns its top six scorers from last year so the core of this team experienced “the bottom,” as Williams described it.
“When you look at Ohio State basketball and we had gone to seven straight NCAA tournaments and then we go to the NIT, it’s like, ‘Gosh, we were on the mountaintop at Ohio State,’” Matta said. “But from our perspective, we didn’t like the way the season went last year. Having the ability to funnel things out when they happen and say, ‘Hey, this happened here and you had the exact same body language as that one day on the road. What’s going to help you get better?’ Those are things that I’m primarily asking about.”
There’s still well over a month until the first game, but the first official practice is only days away. This past summer was one of the most critical in Matta’s tenure at Ohio State and the Buckeyes are hopeful they will reap the rewards this season even though it was admittedly a difficult offseason.
“At the end of the day, it was motivation. Nobody wants to go to the NIT,” junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “But it definitely made us hungrier for this year. It just got here so quick and we’re excited to go in this weekend for our first week of practice. We’ve been preparing all summer for this.”