Patience. That’s the lesson Roddy Gayle learned last season lingering on the bench for Ohio State before his breakout performance in the Big Ten Tournament.
“It took me all year to be able to get to shine and be the kind of player that I know I am,” Gayle said Monday at the team’s media day. “So just being patient and trusting the process is a key component of what college basketball is.”
Now Gayle’s role will expand for the Buckeyes in their 2023-24 campaign.
All signs point toward him being the squad’s starting shooting guard, and with that comes the responsibility of being a team leader. In both that aspect and that of his play, Gayle plans to build off his breakout conference tournament run in March and play a pivotal role for a team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2022-23.
“I expect him to make a real positive jump,” Chris Holtmann said. “I think there’s going to be a lot asked of him, but I expect him to be able to build upon what he was able to do last year. He’s a sophomore, he’s going to go through some ups and downs, but he’s better. We’ve seen that here this summer. He’s gotten really good work in. I think he’s in the best shape he’s been in since here, and that will be important for him because he’s going to play a good amount of minutes.”
In Holtmann’s eyes, Gayle’s leap in play started prior to Ohio State’s four-game run to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Gayle saw an increase in minutes over the Buckeyes’ final seven contests of the regular season, playing 21 per game after averaging 13 up to that point in the year, but he still shot a mere 37 percent from the field and scored only 3.3 points per game. That included a zero-point outing against Maryland in the team’s penultimate regular season game and just two points in 30 minutes the contest before against Illinois.
Still, Ohio State’s head man saw Gayle gain confidence through his expanded role down the stretch.
“(It’s) the confidence that he gained, really, from the last month and a half of the season,” Holtmann said. “You started to see him turn the corner after that really difficult stretch he had in his freshman year. It was well before the Big Ten Tournament, just the Big Ten Tournament we were winning and he was playing really well.”
After opening said tournament with a four-point outing against Wisconsin, Gayle found a rhythm that was unseen from him for most of his freshman year.
He matched his young career high the next day against Iowa, picking up nine points on an efficient 3-for-5 shooting and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
Fans hadn’t seen anything yet.
Gayle exploded in Ohio State’s final two games of the tournament and its season. He drained all three of his 3-point attempts en route to a 15-point outing in the quarterfinals of the tourney, aiding the Buckeyes to a 68-58 win over Michigan State.
Then against Big Ten regular season and eventual tournament champion Purdue, Gayle went a gaudy 5-for-6 from three and racked up 20 points in a losing effort.
“After a really disappointing season, I feel like the least we could have done is given it all we’ve got,” Gayle said. “So going into the tournament, my mindset was to play as hard as I can for each possession. Ultimately that led to me having really good games. So I just want to thank the coaching staff and players for believing in me and giving me that confidence.”
Echoing Holtmann’s earlier sentiments, Gayle felt that self-assurance was the main difference for him to take the next step in his play.
“(What clicked was) an extreme confidence boost, in my opinion,” Gayle said. “I just felt like I was on top of the world. I felt like I couldn’t do any wrong. Coach Holtmann, Coach (Jake) Diebler and Coach (Jack) Owens all gave me that kind of freedom and confidence to go out there and play freely.”
As Gayle tries to replicate the success he found in the tournament across the entire 2023-24 season, he said that Holtmann and company have pushed him this summer to embrace a role as a leader.
His lesson in patience last year is something that he’s trying to pass on to Ohio State’s youngsters. Gayle isn’t as vocal a leader as fellow sophomore Bruce Thornton, he feels, but he’s found ways to encourage teammates.
“I try to stress a lot to our freshmen, ‘There’s going to be lots of ups and downs throughout the season, but you just stay where your feet are,’” Gayle said. “Don’t look past today’s practice, today’s game, just worry about the day’s work ahead.”
If Gayle can continue his upward trajectory from the confidence he gained at the Big Ten Tournament as a freshman, his sophomore year could hold great things.
“There’s no U-turns. You can’t go back and be a lesser player than you were when you left off,” Gayle said. “All I can really do is build on it. So just staying in the gym every day, keep working on my craft.”