Let me be clear: a six foot ten dude who weighs 260 pounds and bangs in the paint en route to three personal fouls in 7 minutes of playing time will not solve Chris Holtmann's dilemma.
There is probably no easy solution to what ails Ohio State men's basketball right now. A combination of the team being not so well put together personnel wise, a tough Big Ten, and a lack of any consistent scoring option outside of Kaleb Wesson in the 40% of the time he's not in foul trouble hurts more than anything else. I also should note that basketball has of course changed immensely in the past decade or so, and you can't really construct a team in the same way that you did back when Netflix was but a glimmer in Blockbuster's eye.
It's a point that I need to belabor lest the following is misconstrued, which it probably will, but hell I'm going to say it anyway: I miss Dallas Lauderdale.
And Othello Hunter. And Evan Ravenel. And Kyle Madsen. And Ivan Harris. And any other proverbial Role Playing Big Man in a sport made up almost entirely of big men; guys whose job on the basketball team was essentially to kind of suck, be mean while doing it, and foul out with 14 minutes left in the second half after putting up six points and four blocks in 10 minutes of playing time.
That's pure blunt force basketball; a landscape of pain painted with snot and blood instead of watercolors and oils. It might not turn out to be a success or even something particularly fun to watch (unless you're into morbid curiosity), but dammit, it's there. It exists. You can't help but notice the effort and hard work that went into its creation, and that has value.
Maybe I'm being a little obtuse; it's hard to articulate exactly why I enjoy watching a semi-competent player wreak havoc in the paint. So let's talk specifics.
The above is part of the box score from a basketball game between Ohio State and Penn State on January 26th, 2013, a game that the Buckeyes won 65-51.
It is also art.
You will make note of the following:
- Amir Williams, playing for 17 minutes and attempting one shot, which he missed.
- LaQuinton Ross, playing for 15 minutes and attempting five shots, of which he made one.
- Trey McDonald, with as many personal fouls as made buckets in six minutes of playing time.
- One assist between all of these players.
But that incompetence is just setting the table for what Evan Ravenel was able to accomplish.
Rav played for 17 minutes, the same as Williams, and scored twice as many points as Amir. He had as many rebounds as the other four players combined. He had the only block, made 50% of his field goal attempts, turned the ball over just once, and most importantly and awesomely, fouled out of the game.
Everything about what Evan Ravenel did that night in Happy Valley was badass. His maximum effort and dedication to fouling the shit out of a bunch of Penn State players made every single other player on the bench with him look like a bunch of weiners. He didn't single-handedly win the game and doesn't even show up in any of the game recaps that I've read, but that kind of performance is exactly the kind of thing that I've missed watching in Ohio State basketball.
I appreciate players and performances like the above because they stand in such stark contrast to the laziness and perimeter futzing around that defines guys like Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. Watching a less than heralded, somewhat marginally skilled role player bust his ass is infinitely more rewarding than watching a McDonald's All-American chuck a couple of absent-minded threes and then sulk dejectedly to the sidelines.
Dallas Lauderdale, the pride of Solon, Ohio who played for the Buckeyes from 07-08 to 10-11, was full of these performances.
For example, against UC-Santa Barbara in the 2010 NCAA tournament, Dallas played 30 minutes as a starter and only took two shots (both of which he made, naturally). But the reason why ol' Dallas didn't feel the need to light up the scoreboard was because he was too busy grabbing 12 rebounds and a hilarious eight blocked shots.
How can you not love a stat line like that? Or appreciate the work that goes into cultivating an incredibly tiny niche of basically just being a tough guy who gets a lot of rebounds and plays hard defense?
And I do mean a tiny niche. This kind of very specific role player was often overshadowed and often supplanted at Ohio State by the likes of Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner, both of whom were rebounding machines in addition to being the best at pretty much everything else. Turner and Sullinger scored so much and so often that unless they were hurt or in foul trouble, it didn't make a lot of sense to slow down the game to accomodate a slower big man that didn't like to get super involved in the offense.
But if you look through the stats and box scores over the years, you find these tiny gems that activate the neurons in my lizard brain and put a giant goofy grin on my face.
Gems such as Ivan Harris scoring 11 points in 18 minutes of playing time in the 2007 tournament game against Tennessee and also racking up three fouls in the process. What about Othello Hunter playing for 16 minutes, going 2-2 on field goals, racking up five rebounds, and somehow accumulating four fouls in that exact same game?
How about Evan Ravenel, in a 2012 win against Michigan State, scoring seven points in just eight minutes and while picking up three fouls? Or Trevor Thompson's underrated 16-17 season, in which he picked up 15 or more rebounds four times (including a fantastic 17 rebound, 17 point game against UConn) and also fouled out... uh, well, nine times. That's probably too many. But still!
What it all boils down to is really just sitting back and enjoying the hard-nosed exploits of a very specific type of player, a type of player that might not help the Buckeyes turn it around this season, but would at least provide the kind of heart and energy that makes college basketball so damn fun to watch.
Let's hope that the sport at large and Chris Holtmann in particular can still find use for that kind of entertainment.