Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Syracuse wanted Roddy Gayle. Connecticut wanted him. So, too, did Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and a slew of other schools.
Matt Bradshaw, Gayle’s coach at Lewiston Porter Senior, predicts that had Gayle – the No. 76 overall recruit and No. 1 prospect from New York in the 2022 cycle – gotten a chance to show out this spring and summer on the Nike EYBL circuit with The New York Renaissance, he would have attracted even more attention.
But last week, Gayle made up his mind, and this week he decided to make it public. On Friday evening at his high school with 10-15 family members and nearly as many media outlets in attendance, he committed to play for Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State Buckeyes.
“Ohio State has been there since the beginning,” Gayle told Eleven Warriors. “Back when I was playing with WeR1, they were in contact with my coach. Ohio State was never a stranger to me. Ever since I was a kid, I was always fascinated with players like Evan Turner and D'Angelo Russell. So I feel like that's where I wanted to be.”
On The Court
Gayle isn’t from Ohio. He has taken a grand total of one trip to Columbus and never went on an official visit. He hasn’t even started his junior season of high school basketball. So, it’s fair to say he might be somewhat of an unknown to most Buckeyes fans just learning of his pledge to play for their team.
“A lot of people aren't going to know who he is, but I'm going to tell you, they're going to find out really quickly who he is when he shows up there,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw contends that if Gayle played a schedule filled with national opponents like many prep schools, he’d be viewed as a five-star prospect. Instead, he plays in Western New York in an area that hasn’t produced someone with his level of talent since Syracuse star Jonny Flynn nearly a decade and a half ago. Gayle starred as a sophomore for Lewiston Porter Senior, averaging 25.8 points, nine rebounds, three assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Regardless of the high school competition level and history of the area, Gayle quickly turned into a priority for the Buckeyes earlier this year.
At 6-foot-4 1/2 with plenty of room to develop his body, Ohio State views his versatility as a major plus. With his combination of feel for the game, size and pure athleticism, the coaches think he can play either guard spot or on the wing.
“They told me that my versatility is what helped them a lot, where I can play possibly one through three,” Gayle said. “I told you they sat me down and they showed me highlights of what their players were doing and highlights of what NBA players were doing. They told me this is what I want you to work on. This is what you should do more. This is what we're going to have you do in college. That's what they told me: ‘You're going to play some one, you're going to play some two, you're going to play some three.’ Because they think I'm versatile enough where I can do all of that and still be very effective and create mismatches.”
Bradshaw, too, touted his versatility without any prompt, noting his star guard’s ability to play three different positions at the collegiate level.
“Big Ten basketball is physical. The ACC, to me, is kind of more finesse,” Bradshaw said. “He's going to bring a combination of that. He's physical, yet he's so athletic. So I think he's going to be a warm welcome to the Buckeye Nation down there because he can do so much.”
Over his final two years of high school, Gayle has plenty to work on. His high school coach referenced his ball-handling as something that’ll be a priority as well as the strength and conditioning work all college-bound hoopers need. He also referenced consistency as a point of emphasis considering, despite his accomplishments, he’s still just midway through his high school career.
But Bradshaw sees the long-term potential in the prospect ranked No. 54 overall by both 247Sports and Rivals. Looking at how Ohio State could use him, he compared Gayle to a significantly more athletic version of Duane Washington Jr.
“I think Roddy's going to force Ohio State to do some things differently because I don't think they have anybody like him on the roster,” Bradshaw said. “I don't mean that in a negative way. It's a physical league. They've got guards with shoulders built like linebackers. They're big and they're strong. But Roddy's going to give them options to do other things.
“You team him up with Malaki (Branham)? I mean, come on. This isn't a tandem you've seen there in a few years, is it? This is going to be athleticism. Roddy's got the ability to play three spots. Malaki, maybe three, but I know for sure two.”
In The Class
In the 2019 cycle, Ohio State brought in one guard – DJ Carton – who has since transferred. In the 2020 cycle, the coaching staff once again signed just one guard – Eugene Brown III – but the Georgia product is more of a wing than a ball-handler.
So, it’s no surprise to see the Buckeyes focusing so heavily on the backcourt across their 2021 and 2022 classes.
They inked point guard Meechie Johnson – who reclassified to join them midseason in December – and high-end four-star 2021 shooting guard Malaki Branham to National Letters of Intent on Friday. As of Friday, they hold 2022 commitments from three-star Cincinnati shooting guard Bowen Hardman and Gayle.
Here’s what the roster and scholarship distribution now looks like:
|PF||KYLE YOUNG||SETH TOWNS (RS)||E.J. LIDDELL||ZED KEY||KALEN ETZLER (2021)|
JUSTICE SUEING (RS)
MUSA JALLOW (RS)
|SG||–||DUANE WASHINGTON JR.||
MALAKI BRANHAM (2021)
BOWEN HARDMAN (2022)
RODDY GAYLE (2022)
CJ WALKER (RS)
Over the course of the next couple of years, Ohio State will lose CJ Walker, Jimmy Sotos and Washington. The coaches recognize they need some new blood in the backcourt, and they’ve got it with Johnson, Branham, Hardman and Gayle on the way.
As Bradshaw correctly notes, the future of the Buckeyes’ backcourt is coming together in front of our eyes.
“They don't have a guy like Roddy on their roster,” Bradshaw said. “They don't have this athletic freak who can play three positions. I think he's going to add a new dimension to Ohio State. So they're going to be able to do some things differently, as well. And I think Holtmann is a great coach. I think he knows how to use his talent. I think he knows how to take players' strengths and work it in within their system. I think you're going to see Ohio State, in my opinion, with Roddy and Malaki and Meechie just playing a different style than what you see their three guards playing this year.”
With about a year left before anybody in the 2022 class can even sign with a college, the commitments of Gayle and Hardman give the coaching staff time to refocus all of their energy on other positions: Point guard, big man and, potentially, forward – though don't expect to see any five-person recruiting classes in the Holtmann era.
The final piece of the Buckeyes’ backcourt of the future will materialize when they figure out which point guard will join their 2022 class. They haven’t extended many scholarship offers to lead guards yet, though Georgia four-star Bruce Thornton has them in their top-five. Gahanna three-star Sean Jones and Cincinnati four-star Paul McMillan are a couple of other in-state options who haven’t been offered.
Of course, for all of this discussion about the 2022 cycle, Ohio State still has one more spot it’s looking to fill in its 2021 class. It wants a center, with five-stars Efton Reid, Charles Bediako and Chet Holmgren representing the chief targets.
Holtmann has frequently talked about the need to bring in players who fit the mold of what he wants his teams to look like. He emphasizes grit, coachability and the fit within the program he’s building.
If Gayle’s anything like what his high school coach says, it’ll work out just fine.
“You guys are going to love him, the media's going to love him, the fans are going to love him,” Bradshaw said. “He's warm. He's caring. He's friendly. I'm going to be throwing all these words at you – selfless, selfless, selfless. He's humble. He's team-first. He brings people together. Just an amazing kid on top of being a great basketball player.”
Under Holtmann, it’s important to thread the needle. He seeks competitive and tough-nosed players talented enough to contend regularly for Big Ten titles and beyond, but he also wants those who are also coachable, thoughtful and take care of their business.
Gayle, if he proves Bradshaw correct, could turn out to be exactly that.