Zed Key's Infectious Enthusiasm Is Exactly What We Need to Get Us Through This Thing Called Life

By Johnny Ginter on January 29, 2021 at 10:10 am
Ohio State's Zed Key

This is not just an article about Zed Key.

There have been several articles written about Zed Key, here and elsewhere, and they're all warranted because Zed Key kicks enormous amounts of ass. Not always on the court (although, often; he's turned out to be an incredibly effective player at times), but mostly for the fact that the dude clearly loves what he's doing while he's doing it.

In game after game, Key plays hard, with enthusiasm, and for his teammates. It's a joy to watch but it also helps make Ohio State men's basketball appointment viewing. You know, in addition to the team being pretty good.

That's a quality that has sometimes been in short supply with Ohio State men's basketball over the years. Uber-talented players, McDonald's All-Americans, and five stars all coming to Columbus from high school and landing with a lackadaisical thud frustrate the hell out of fans hoping for excitement and excellence. 

Both of those observations are admittedly pretty selfish. Players don't owe anything to anybody but themselves and their team, and placing value on one over another for mostly superficial reasons is kind of petty.

So to be clear, finger guns are not a requirement. No one has to mug for the camera and be a "personality" if that's not their thing, and fans shouldn't get angry if it isn't. Any collegiate player in any sport knows that there's a vast market for their mostly uncompensated labor that they're not able to tap into, especially at Ohio State and especially in basketball and football. "Smile more" is not something anyone should ever be telling anybody, especially if they're working their ass off for peanuts.

But that last part is essential, and why a guy like Zed Key is perfect for this discussion.

Against a very good Illinois squad a few weeks ago, all six foot eight inches of Zed Key played extensive minutes against Illinois seven-foot center Kofi Cockburn, one of the best at his position in the country, and went at the dude. Cockburn finished 7-7 from the floor and had 15 points, but had only four at halftime as Key added eight of his own and frustrated Cockburn whenever they were matched up.

And the thing is, that kind of effort helps you recognize it in others as well. Kyle Young also played well against Cockburn in that same game, and while he only ended up with six points by the end of the game, it was easier to understand and recognize the work that both players put in to secure a win against a ranked opponent.

The more you watch this Chris Holtmann team, the more of that you see. Seth Towns, not at 100%, coming off the bench to create essential minutes and points. Justice Sueing figuring out different ways to contribute whenever he's on the floor. E.J. Liddell becoming a bonafide star in his own right. Are there sometimes frustrating moments and players? Absolutely. But this is one of the most fun Ohio State men's basketball teams to watch in a while, because they are playing hard and with the kind of toughness and enthusiasm that anyone paying attention can appreciate.

Late December and January was brutal for this team last year. After a very promising start to the season, the Buckeyes lost six of seven, including four games in a row to begin 2020. Every game after that felt like a struggle, and while the team was able to right the ship and carry some momentum into March, the words CANCELLED appear next to their final scheduled game against Purdue in what was supposed to be the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament. We all know what happened after that.

And that might be part of it. Denied a chance to prove their worth in the NCAA Tournament and to show they had gotten over the gigantic pile of losses they accrued in January, maybe the 20-21 men's basketball team has something to prove to both the rest of the country and themselves.

Whatever the case, the reason why I appreciate the hell out of Zed Key is because to me, he's the embodiment of why this team is so fun to watch. Overlooked and with something to prove, they're fighting hard each week to make up for lost time and surprise people a little bit. In a season as wide-open as this one is, both nationally and within the Big Ten, the Ohio State Buckeyes have a chance to make their mark. Gigantic games against Iowa and Michigan loom large ahead on the schedule, but hey, at this point? I wouldn't count them out against anybody.

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