Freshmen forwards E.J. Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney won't officially begin their college basketball careers until Ohio State tips off against Cincinnati in November, but they gave Columbus a taste of what to expect on Sunday.
Liddell and Gaffney joined a cadre of veteran Buckeyes – Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Kaleb Wesson, Musa Jallow and Duane Washington Jr. – to play in the Kingdom Summer League at South High School this weekend.
The league, which plays in a gym open to the public every Sunday, features a mishmosh of basketball players, including current college players, former college players, current professionals, former professionals and a couple of high schoolers. Former Michigan guard and current NBA free agent Trey Burke returned to his hometown of Columbus to play his first Kingdom Summer League game on Sunday. Other participants this weekend included G-Leaguer Taren Sullivan, former Michigan State guard Travis Trice, Marshall's Taevion Kinsey and overseas professional Courtney Pigram.
Liddell led all Buckeyes who played on Sunday with 27 points. He teamed up with Andre Wesson to take on a team that included Gaffney and Washington. Muhammad and Kaleb Wesson played together. Jallow didn't have any Ohio State teammates on his team.
Here's a look at how Liddell and Gaffney played, including a variety of the duo's both good and bad plays.
Liddell couldn't have performed much better in his Kingdom Summer League debut.
Playing in the final game of the day and matched up against Gaffney for a portion of the game, Liddell dropped 27 points, leading all other scorers on both teams. He hit 11-of-16 shots, scoring from multiple levels and going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. He added 10 rebounds and four assists.
Not bad for a freshman.
E.J. Liddell gets a bucket on the post up. pic.twitter.com/MzqGC7SHJW— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 7, 2019
Liddell hasn't played a collegiate game, but it's fair to view him as the most likely player to start at power forward. Even as a first-year player, he will have a large influence on the outlook of the 2019-20 Buckeyes.
He's a multi-level scorer who, even as an undersized 6-foot-6 power forward, can bang in the post and stretch it out beyond the 3-point line. Liddell drilled three 3-pointers in a row during the first half, and he went to work on the block late in the game. He has impressive touch near the basket and followed his shot on a number of occasions, tipping in one of his few misses while leaping over someone else.
Multiple times, he called for the ball in the post, went to work backing an opponent down and finished. He'll face more physical opponents in the Big Ten than in a summer league game, but Liddell doesn't show any fear or hesitation in the post.
Liddell has long arms that allow him to affect shots on defense, but unlike Gaffney, he's well built for a college freshman with plenty of lower-body strength that will allow him to play inside immediately.
E.J. Liddell made this, and it wasn't a dunk. Still not quite sure how he pulled it off. pic.twitter.com/01GqQiaPLq— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 8, 2019
Liddell has about as high a floor as anyone could expect from an incoming freshman. He was the No. 42 overall recruit in his class and the eighth-ranked power forward.
He can play right away, and he'll impact games on both ends of the court as potentially one of Ohio State's best two-way players, even as a freshman.
Gaffney's first two shots of the game tell his story.
He pulled up over Liddell from well beyond the 3-point line and drained his first attempt to score the game's first points. His next shot, another pull-up triple, went about two feet right of the rim, missing everything.
Welcome to the Gaffney experience.
On some plays, he looks like a lock to become a future NBA player, and at other times you realize just how much he still has to develop. He had 11 points and eight rebounds on Sunday, making 5-of-15 shots and missing both free-throw attempts. He added three assists.
In person, Gaffney looks every bit the part of a skinny, lanky forward. He's listed at 6-foot-9, 190 pounds, but he might be slightly taller than that. He was almost always both the tallest and skinniest player on the court. It doesn't take long to notice his 7-foot-4 wingspan either, especially when he palms the ball and holds it in an outstretched arm. As Chris Holtmann has noted, the word "potential" gets thrown around when discussing him because he just looks like a basketball player.
When Gaffney is at his best, he's using his length and athleticism. He dunks effortlessly and leaps with ease. Some of his blocked shots make it look like he's toying with opponents.
Duane Washington to Alonzo Gaffney. pic.twitter.com/byc1mWXxXa— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 7, 2019
At this point in his development, Gaffney doesn't have the heft to bang in the post, so he got most of his points on spot-up shots, pull-up jumpers, dunks, alley-oops and in transition. He'll need to put on some muscle to be more productive near the rim.
With his length, though, he was effective on the glass on both ends of the court. He's bouncy and can grab boards others simply can't reach.
Gaffney also had this nifty tap of a rebound to a teammate for an assist, showcasing his length.
Alonzo Gaffney with the tip rebound assist. pic.twitter.com/r7bVVSVpjD— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 7, 2019
Gaffney fell in love with his shot a bit too much. He had no problem taking pull-up 3-pointers or long 2-pointers, and some aren't exactly shots Ohio State's coaching staff would be thrilled to see him hoisting. But then again, this is a summer league, so there's not a lot of incentive to avoid firing away.
It doesn't take an NBA coach to see Gaffney's potential. But the question remains the same: can he reach it?
- Kaleb Wesson just looks different. Playing on the same team as Luther Muhammad in an afternoon game, the Ohio State center had eight points, 10 rebounds and three assists. More noticeable than his stats, though, was his body. He has clearly continued his weight loss into the offseason. A month ago, Lori Schmidt, of 610 WTVN News reported he had lost 12-17 pounds, and it's fair to assume he has cut even more weight since then. He told Eleven Warriors that he returned to chase his goal of playing in the NBA, and getting his body in peak shape will aid him in that pursuit.
- Though Wesson only scored eight points, two of them came on this one-handed alley oop off the backboard. As The Athletic's Bill Landis pointed out, it looks like he might have snagged the pass intended for his teammate and finished it off for two points. Consider this play a direct result of the improved physique. He'll never be an above-the-rim player, but with improved athleticism and conditioning, a lighter Wesson who retains his ability to bully defenders in the post could be an upgrade for the Buckeyes.
Kaleb Wesson with some bounce. Catches the transition alley oop off the backboard and finishes. pic.twitter.com/3O5F5jccQ1— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 7, 2019
- Wesson also had a stretch of play everyone who watched Ohio State last season has seen before. Midway through the second quarter, he got called for a pair of back-to-back fouls. At least one of the calls was blown, and Wesson and his teammates pleaded to the referee to no avail.
- Duane Washington had a solid performance playing along Gaffney. He had 10 points, seven rebounds and two assists. His night, however, was cut short due to what appeared to be an ankle injury. He had his left foot wrapped and propped up on a chair during the second half. After the game, he walked with a bit a limp, but the injury didn't look like it would affect him in the long term.
- Luther Muhammad hasn't changed. He's still the lanky guard who stays moving at all times and always keeps some sort of emotion on his face. Called "the lieutenant" by the public address announcer, Muhammad had 17 points, making 5-of-16 shots. He went 2-for-9 from beyond the arc and made 5-of-6 free throws. Muhammad added seven assists and five rebounds.
- Andre Wesson has one more year of college basketball left, and he has continued his steady progression. The elder Wesson brother had 13 points, hitting 6-of-16 shots. He added six rebounds and an assist. On a couple possessions, Wesson took it off the bounce and attacked the rim, which he'd like to have in his arsenal as a senior.
- Musa Jallow had 11 points. He went 5-for-13 from the floor, missing all four 3-point attempts. He added eight rebounds and four assists. In order to secure a steady role with the Buckeyes, he has to figure out how to consistently contribute on offense.
- Freshman center Ibrahima Diallo was in the stands at South High School for the first two of the four games. There's a chance he plays in the summer league. DJ Carton and Justice Sueing also might play in future weeks, since the rosters fluctuate each week.