Ryan Pedon, one of Ohio State’s three assistant coaches, has constantly repeated the same phrase to senior point guard C.J. Jackson over the past few months.
“Set the temperature in the room, man.”
It’s only natural that Jackson would slide into the role as the team’s de facto leader. He’s the team’s starting point guard and one of three seniors, and the other two are a graduate transfer (Keyshawn Woods) and a former walk-on (Joey Lane). The problem, though, is the role requires him getting out of his comfort zone.
Last season, the Buckeyes followed Jae’Sean Tate’s lead. Where he went, the team followed. Pedon said Tate was such a magnetic leader that teammates followed him without even knowing. He led by example, but was loud and animated at times, as well.
What was natural to Tate doesn’t come quite as easily for Jackson. That’s a tough transition for someone who served as a role player and isn’t an outspoken person by nature. But, it's one that’ll be important for Ohio State, especially when it inevitably stumbles at some point, as all teams do, and needs to fall back on its leaders.
“That's not something that he was called upon to do a year ago,” Pedon said. “Quite frankly, he's a mild-mannered, airs on the side of being a quiet, gentle young man. Those are phenomenal qualities, but the fact of the matter is we need his voice. We're encouraging certain guys in that area more than ever.”
Assistant coach Mike Schrage called the team’s leadership a “collective effort.” Woods is in his fifth year of college, but it can be hard to enter a new team and jump into the role of an outgoing leader. He’ll be leaned on, though, along with Andre Wesson.
The Buckeyes brought Wesson and Jackson to Chicago to represent the team at Big Ten media day, signaling their importance to the team. Schrage said Wesson will not be the “biggest rah-rah leader in the world,” but he’ll lead by example. His brother, Kaleb Wesson, will have a large role on the team, but isn’t a vocal player. That’s a theme among the team’s veterans.
“You always want guys to talk more,” Pedon said. “I think that's a challenge for us right now because some of our older guys need to transition from guys that were blenders, guys that fit in, to now being guys that are able to dictate the mood.”
Though the returners might not talk too much, that’s not the case for the four freshmen: Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr., Justin Ahrens and Jaedon LeDee. Assistant coach Terry Johnson joked that they might even talk too much. That’s not a problem for the coaches, though.
Pedon said Andrew Dakich “never shut up” last year, but called it a “phenomenal quality.”
“We recruited Luther to come in, all these freshmen to come in, help build a culture,” Schrage said. “And fortunately that culture was built pretty well in Year 1 because of Jae'Sean Tate, Keita and those guys you mentioned. But all those guys have a chance to step in and kind of lead right away too.”
Bulletin Board Material
NCAA.com’s Andy Katz picked Ohio State to finish 12th in the Big Ten. In a poll of the Big Ten media, the Buckeyes were picked to finish eighth in the conference. Sports Illustrated picked them ninth. Not many outlets have them landing in the top half of the Big Ten.
Pedon has been keeping track of the not-so-rosy projections.
For the third year in a row, he has printed out and taped up a hefty amount of projections to a wall on his office. He doesn’t want to forget about any of them.
“I take meticulous care of this wall,” Pedon said. “The tape is perfectly placed on there. I like to go back and update the highlights every now and again just to keep it bright for where we're being picked. I like our players, when they're in my office or they're swinging by the office, to be able to see that kind of stuff.”
It has worked well in the past. Prior to Pedon and Chris Holtmann’s final year at Butler, expectations weren’t particularly high, but the Bulldogs finished 25-9 and reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Last year, Ohio State entered the season with nearly everyone outside the program expecting a finish in the basement of the Big Ten. That, of course, did not happen.
Pedon said he doesn’t use the pre-season projections to motivate the team, but wants to look at it for personal motivation as often as possible.
“As a coach, you want to use any and all forms of motivation that you can to sort of get an edge,” Pedon said.
G League announcement doesn’t change Ohio State’s focus
The NBA G League, formerly known at the Developmental League, made a splash a couple weeks ago when it announced it will begin offering $125,000 contracts to high-level prospects. In the announcement, the league said it has begun to develop a group that can identify the prospects to offer the “select contracts” to.
It might not have much effect on Ohio State, though. It’s not yet known how many prospects will be offered the six-figure contracts, but the Buckeyes don’t recruit at the level of the blue bloods. Thus, they’ll likely not risk losing many, if any, players to the league.
Plus, Schrage said the players who might accept that kind of deal aren’t the team’s targets.
“I think the young men that we've recruited, they want to have the college experience. They know how much better they can get here at this university, this program, certainly with us,” Schrage said. “We're recruiting those kind of guys that are thinking along those lines.”
Schrage, noting his inability to speak for the rest of the coaching staff, said he has not talked to any of Ohio State’s 2019 commitments about the G League.
Musa Jallow finally healthy
Considering Musa Jallow had a nine-game scoreless stretch in January and finished his freshman season by playing seven or fewer minutes in Ohio State’s final five games of the season, it can be easy to forget just how big of a contributor he was early last season. He averaged 24 minutes in the first nine games of the season and started 10 games, the sixth-most on the team.
With Jackson locked into a starting role, Jallow will compete with Woods and Muhammad for the starting two-guard spot, and he’s likely on the outside looking in. It didn’t help that he essentially didn’t have an offseason, due to gimpy ankles, Schrage said, until the team took a trip to Spain in early August.
Though he’ll likely be coming off the bench, Jallow will be important to the team, especially for his defense. The Buckeyes have questions about who’ll be able to score, so it’s pertinent for them to be able to defend at a high level.
“He played such a big role for us because on the defensive end, he can be pretty elite,” Schrage said. “He can guard a lot of positions. Defensive versatility at the highest level right now is such a key, and he can provide that.”
On the other side of the court, questions about Jallow’s ability to contribute remain. Last season, he shot just 39.2 percent from the field and hit 25 percent of his 44 3-point attempts.
“Offensively, he continues to get more confident,” Schrage said. “I think he's been better with the ball, taking care of it, getting it where it needs to go, getting ready for his open (jumpers). He's got a chance definitely to establish a big role with us.”