For the better part of the last few seasons, Ohio State basketball wasn't nearly as exciting as Buckeye fans would have liked.
That is no longer the case.
Upon his arrival in Columbus, Chris Holtmann took Ohio State back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, knocking off a pair of top-three teams in the process. And while the current Buckeyes gear up for another postseason run, there is another team wearing the school colors trying to win a title.
Team Scarlet and Gray, Ohio State's alumni team in The Basketball Tournament, returns this summer for its second stint in the showcase, hoping to claim the $2 million prize awarded to the winner of the tournament. Last summer, Scarlet and Gray advanced all the way to the semifinals, only to fall in the closing moments.
They are back this season with the additions of arguably two of the best big men in school history, as they announced Monday morning that Greg Oden and Jared Sullinger would join the squad.
Sullinger played for the team last season, leading the team in scoring and rebounds. Oden, on the other hand, has not played competitive basketball in nearly three years, but should Scarlet and Gray make it out of the first weekend, he will join the team for the third round of the tournament.
Alongside the likes of William Buford, Aaron Craft, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, Byron Mullens and other former Buckeyes, the team is compiled with some of the best players in the last 20 years to play at OSU. Sullinger said that while it isn't quite an Ohio State dream team, it is probably fair to call it a Thad Matta-coached dream team.
"It's a generation team. You can't take away from the Jerry Lucas and the Jim Jackson's. It's the 'what ifs' of the Matta era," Sullinger said. "It's going to be a lot of 'what ifs' that Coach Matta is probably going to be sitting back and watching like, 'Damn, what if they stayed all four years?'"
Two names that are missing from the Scarlet and Gray roster that would surely be added if they were not still playing in the NBA are Mike Conley and Evan Turner. Conley has spent every year of his NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies while Turner, who is participating as an assistant coach for Scarlet and Gray, is with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Unfortunately for a few former Buckeyes, there wasn't room for everyone on the team this summer. Andrew Dakich, who exhausted his eligibility with a final graduate season at Ohio State in 2017-18, wanted to join the roster, but Scarlet and Gray did not have any spots open. Dakich ended up starting his own team, Big X, which is placed in Scarlet and Gray's region. Should both teams win their first two games, they would meet in the TBT version of the Sweet 16, a matchup that Scarlet and Gray head coach Scoonie Penn is hoping happens.
"Listen, I love Dakich. (But I said) Dakich, this is not for you buddy," Penn said Monday, laughing. "If you know Dakich, he can be the biggest pest. 'C'mon Scoonie, I can be a good glue guy.' Yes, he can do those things well, but we have glue guys.
"He's lucky if we don't run into him down the road. Imagine Dakich bringing the ball up against Aaron Craft. That's all I have to say."
Instead of adding Dakich, Scarlet and Gray added former Penn State guard Talor Battle. The former Nittany Lion played in Happy Valley from 2007-2011, leading Penn State to the Big Ten Tournament title game his senior season, ultimately losing to the Buckeyes.
His addition gives Scarlet and Gray another point guard, a luxury it didn't have last summer.
"He is going to be a big addition to the squad. He is battle-tested. We know he can score," Penn said of Battle. "We know Craft is a defensive, lock-down guy, but bringing in another guy to handle the ball and be a point guard, that will be big for us because we lacked that last year."
As for wearing the Ohio State school colors, Penn said Battle "will be fine."
"There is no problem. He knows these guys," Penn added. "We can have some honorary Buckeyes. We have a few, so it's alright."
Scarlet and Gray isn't the perfect Thad Matta dream team, but considering the players that are available, it might be the closest you can get. With the team Penn has assembled, expectations for the team are as high, if not higher, than they were when the former Buckeyes played as students in Columbus.
Now playing for a $2 million prize, Scarlet and Gray is expected to at the very least get back to the final four, if not win the entire tournament, and Penn said his team has accepted the lofty expectations they face.
"These guys took it hard last year when we didn't win it all. We really felt we should have, we had the best team in the tournament," Penn said. "The fact that it is here, we just want Buckeye Nation to come out and support. If I am a casual basketball fan, I would come out and watch these guys. They are playing right here in the city, so we should have a good crowd and good support, and it will be good basketball to watch as well."
Scarlet and Gray is set to open the tournament with its first round game played at Capital University's Performance Center on July 21 at 4 p.m. Should they win, Scarlet and Gray would return to the floor the following day at 2 p.m., with both games scheduled to be televised on ESPN.