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Trey Wertz, a transfer guard who spent two years at Santa Clara, got the full Ohio State experience. He took a look at the campus. He saw the facilities. He sat down with the coaching staff.
But he wasn’t in Columbus.
Wertz and his father were sitting in front of a computer at home on Monday as head coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon led them through an hour-long “virtual visit” of Ohio State via Zoom.
“The presentation kind of went like it would normally go if I was able to take a visit and then come to their office and sit down,” Wertz told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. “It was almost like a powerpoint presentation that they did. The virtual part of it was they had videos of the school, of campus, facilities and stuff like that. And then the other part is kind of the presentation they would normally give if I was actually on campus with them.”
Pedon had contacted Wertz on Sunday to set up the virtual visit, which is the best coaches can do right now since prospects are banned from on-campus recruiting visits due to concerns about COVID-19.
“It was definitely helpful,” Wertz said. “I thought it would be going into it, and it ended up being just as kind of what I thought. With this whole virus thing, it's going to be almost impossible to go visit schools. And even if it was to open back up, it still wouldn't be the same because nobody's actually on the campus.”
Wertz, who put his name in the portal early last week, fits the description of what Ohio State’s looking for in a transfer guard as someone who’d need to sit out the 2020-21 season before having multiple remaining years of eligibility.
As a sophomore at Santa Clara in 2019-20, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound combo guard averaged 11.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game as a starter. He shot 48.9 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from 3-point range and 75.7 percent from the free-throw line. He sees his biggest strengths as shooting, playmaking, scoring, size and his ability to play both on and off the ball.
“A lot of (teams) kind of rave about my best basketball is ahead of me, and they all want to be part of that process in helping me get better and ultimately helping their program get better,” Wertz said.
Count Ohio State among the schools interested in him joining its team.
The Buckeyes made Wertz’s top 11, along with Arizona, Butler, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Xavier. He admits he largely made the list to try to “calm it all down” since upwards of 40 schools contacted him in the past week. Soon, he said, he’ll further cut his list to focus on a smaller amount of programs before possibly making a decision at some point in April.
Ohio State’s pitch to Wertz is one it has made before.
The team added CJ Walker as a transfer from Florida State two years ago. Walker then sat out the 2018-19 season before beginning his on-court Ohio State career in 2019-20 with two remaining seasons of eligibility. If Wertz becomes a Buckeye, he’d sit out next season then potentially take over for Walker in the backcourt.
Even if the NCAA passes a rule in the offseason to allow every player to gain immediate eligibility as a transfer once in their college career, Wertz said, he’s “actually leaning toward” sitting out next season. At Ohio State, that could allow him to be a two-year starter.
Wertz said the coaches told him his game isn’t similar to Walker’s, but he would have the “same type of opportunity and role” that Walker had when he joined the program.
“On the court, me being a point guard, they have CJ Walker right now,” Wertz said. “He will be a senior next year and graduating. The year I'm eligible, they'd be needing a point guard to kind of step in and (play). They're more in favor of getting someone who's more experienced, been through college a little bit, rather than bringing in someone like a freshman to kind of fill that spot.”
Though Wertz is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he has a couple connections to Ohio State.
Holtmann and Mike Schrage, who was on Holtmann’s staff in Columbus for two years before becoming Elon’s head coach, recruited him while at Butler. He has also talked to a couple of his friends from Charlotte who attend Ohio State, including freshman defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan.
Having gone through Monday’s virtual visit, he has an understanding of why Holtmann now wants him at Ohio State.
“I was really impressed with it all,” Wertz said. “I could tell I was really a priority for them and they really see me as a really good fit for the situation.”
A Commit Doing Some Recruiting
Four-star combo guard Meechie Johnson wrapped up his recruitment in August, joining power forward Kalen Etzler as Ohio State’s second early 2021 commitment. If he has his way, he’d like one of his current teammates at Willoughby’s ISA at Andrews Osborne Academy to join him in scarlet and gray.
Though he sat out his junior season while recovering from a torn ACL, Johnson stayed in the ear of five-star center Charles Bediako about the possibility of teaming up in college at Ohio State, which offered him a scholarship in July.
“Every day,” Bediako told Eleven Warriors in February. “If it's one day it's not, then something's wrong. Something's wrong if it's not every day.”
Early in the recruitment process of Bediako, who plays for a prep school in Ohio but grew up in Canada, the Buckeyes began making their pitch. He has been to Columbus on three visits, seeing everything from the basketball team practice to a football game under the lights. The first trip came in November 2018, and afterward he told Eleven Warriors that he felt as though Ohio State was the first university that really wanted him.
At that point, Bediako didn’t have any scholarship offers. But since the 6-foot-11, 215-pound big man has developed into the No. 21 overall prospect and third-ranked center in 2021, he’s got his pick of well-regarded programs.
Ohio State, Maryland, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, Xavier, USC, Louisville, Baylor, Rutgers, Providence and TCU have all extended offers. Bediako even picked up a Duke offer when Mike Krzyzewski called him in December.
“All these offers, even if it's a Duke offer, I always just take it as motivation to get better and keep on playing,” Bediako said.
Since prospects currently can’t take visits and the AAU season has been postponed, it’s hard to know exactly how much COVID-19 concerns will impact recruiting this summer. Bediako, though he’s wanted by plenty of other well-thought-of programs, remains a target of the Buckeyes.
“Coach Pedon, we talk a lot,” Bediako said in February. “He calls and checks up on me. What he said with me, he compares me to Kaleb, Kaleb Wesson. He said I can be a big for them that can play inside and out. They say I'm like a leaner version of Kaleb Wesson. Lean, but I have a high motor, so I can run the floor. They want me to work pick and rolls.”
New Big Man Target
For the first time since January, a prospect publicly announced he received a scholarship offer from Ohio State.
Micawber Etienne, otherwise known as Mac, picked up an offer from the Buckeyes on Sunday. He’s the latest 2021 big man target.
Blessed to have received an offer from Ohio State University pic.twitter.com/dSv4LhoxzS— Micawber (@Micawber_e) March 29, 2020
Standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 220 pounds, Etienne is ranked No. 59 overall and as the 11th-ranked center in his class. He’s attending Suffield Academy in Connecticut, though he’s a native of New York. Illinois, Iowa, Connecticut, Rutgers, Syracuse, UCLA, Xavier and Seton Hall are among the other programs that have offered him.
It’ll be a tough recruiting battle to pull the long, high-energy center to Columbus, but he’d fill Ohio State’s need for a big man in its 2021 class. Etienne, Bediako, Logan Duncomb, Chet Holmgren and Franck Kepnang are among the bigs holding scholarship offers from Holtmann’s staff.
Other Transfer Possibilities
Since beginning to explore the transfer market, Ohio State took a look at a few paths.
The team expressed interest in some graduate transfers who might be able to offer depth at point guard behind CJ Walker. Quinnipiac’s Rich Kelly, who ended up choosing to go to Boston College, was a potential option at one point. Graduate transfer big men, including Columbia’s Patrick Tapé who announced his pick of Duke, were also looked at as possibilities.
As of now, though, it appears more likely that the Buckeyes go after a point guard or combo guard who has multiple years of eligibility remaining but will have to sit out the 2020-21 season.
Wertz is one of the options to fill that need. Ohio State has also reportedly reached out to Wichita State's Jamarius Burton (10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists) and Air Force's AJ Walker (11.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists). The staff had reportedly contacted Pitt’s Trey McGowens, too, but he recently released a top eight sans the Buckeyes.
Every day, a new batch of players enter the transfer portal, so it’s fair to expect fresh options to crop up in future weeks.
This philosophy isn’t new. Holtmann, in the past, has consistently expressed interest in having at least one sit-one transfer on the roster most years. Walker was the first to do so in Columbus, transferring from Florida State then sitting out the 2018-19 season. Justice Sueing sat out last season after transferring from Cal and will have two years of eligibility to play for the Buckeyes.