Jake Diebler's Belief, Plan for Sean Stewart Within Ohio State Offense Made Buckeyes the Right Fit for 2023 Five-Star Prospect

By Andy Anders on May 5, 2024 at 8:35 am
Sean Stewart
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Even circles need a starting point.

To come full circle in his addition of Sean Stewart from the transfer portal, the starting point for Jake Diebler came years ago in the power forward’s high school recruitment.

As Ohio State's lead recruiter for Stewart while trying to build the Buckeyes class of 2023, Diebler cultivated a relationship with he and his family built on authenticity and support. 

“He was honest, straightforward, direct, but at the same time encouraging,” Michael Stewart, Sean’s dad, told Eleven Warriors. “He poured a lot of confidence into Sean, just continuing to reiterate the belief that he had in him. Back then, E.J. Liddell was on the team, and during the recruiting process, it was a lot about the importance of that position. ... This time around, obviously, Jake Diebler is the head coach, but it’s the exact same thing.”

The Buckeyes ultimately finished second in that initial recruitment, though Michael Stewart said the family held Diebler, Chris Holtmann and Ohio State in high regard.

But by instilling the same faith in Sean a year later and showing a clear plan for him in Ohio State’s offense, Diebler and his staff were able to snag a five-star talent from a blueblood Duke program to build out their frontcourt in the head coach’s first full year.

“It’s amazing because this year, I didn’t get to play that much, so the fact that he still believes in me from seeing me in high school and what I was able to do there and that he trusts me,” Sean Stewart said. “On the visit, we walked through some offense that he expects to run this year and some of the stuff I was kind of initiating it, whether that’s starting the ball up on the top with a hand-off, a lot of lob stuff, a lot of stuff for me to be able to get the ball in the mid-post. So it’s just a really good offense to get everybody involved.”

Sean Stewart’s freshman year didn’t go according to plan at Duke, not for someone ranked No. 17 overall with five stars next to his name in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Stewart played just 8.3 minutes per game sitting behind more seasoned Blue Devil forwards, only giving him leeway to average 2.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. His rate statistics were indicative of his potential, however, with 12.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per 40 minutes alongside 18.9 points and 22.8 rebounds per 100 possessions. All those rates are higher than last year’s starting center for the Buckeyes, Felix Okpara.

That’s what Diebler saw in his renewed pursuit of the player who broke Zion Williamson’s vertical leap record at Duke with a 36-inch jump. He did well to parlay his visions of how Stewart might fit in the offense after he hopped in the transfer portal.

"He laid out a comprehensive plan for how he can help Sean achieve some of his basketball goals," Michael Stewart said. "I think that with the other guys they have on the team, there's an immediate fit. There's a need. And I think Sean can slide in at any capacity and help Ohio State achieve some of their goals."

Even going back to Sean’s recruitment and the example of E.J. Liddell, Michael Stewart sees the value of the power forward position in Columbus and the myriad ways it is deployed within the offense.

“That position within Coach Diebler’s offense and Ohio State’s offense, there’s a lot of versatility and a lot of flexibility with what you can do,” Michael Stewart said. “There’s a lot of ways he’s gonna be able to be impactful on the offensive end of the floor. I’ll leave it at that.”

"There’s a lot of ways he’s gonna be able to be impactful on the offensive end of the floor. I’ll leave it at that."– Michael Stewart on Ohio State's plans for Sean Stewart offensively

On the defensive side of things, Sean Stewart is an option to guard most positions on the floor, if not all. His leaping ability, decent length at 6-9 and great lateral mobility and agility make him a weapon for shutting other teams down.

"It's always good to be really versatile," Sean Stewart said. "I just want to be super intense on defense and whoever coach needs me to guard, I can go out there and guard him. Whether it's the best player, the center, guard, whatever he needs."

Off the basketball court, support for the Buckeyes’ program was another factor that drew Stewart to Ohio State.

“The fanbase really stands out,” Sean Stewart said. “For my first visit (in high school), I got to go to a football game, so I remember that. I remember how big the fanbase is, watching games when I was coming out of high school. So just the fanbase is really crazy, Columbus, is a huge, huge program and there’s a lot of love in the city. I’m excited to get to know the fans and get going.”

He’ll have work to do once he arrives in Columbus.

Stewart will first have to win the starting power forward job against sophomore Devin Royal, and regardless he’ll have to reacclimate to being a major impact player on a team again. It’ll be important that he takes the next step in his offensive game to complement his skills as a rebounder and defender.

“The good part is, the season doesn’t start tomorrow,” Michael Stewart said. “He’ll have a lot of time over the month of May with the team and June and July, and then once official practice starts, the first game is not until November. So he has plenty of time to put his head down, get to work, learn the system and the development piece of this was also a major topic of discussion. I think Coach Diebler has some really cool and innovative things that he wants to do with Sean. And Sean is a worker, he’s always in the gym. So by the time the lights come on, he’s gonna be ready.”

Sean Stewart feels that he was destined to end up with the Buckeyes this season, however. He’ll try to aid the team in reaching a better destiny than the NIT in 2024-25.

“I feel like it wasn’t an accident that this opportunity came back around,” Sean Stewart said. “Ohio State was really, really close the first time in my decision, so the fact that I was able enter the portal and Ohio State was one of the first calls I received from Coach (Diebler). It just felt like it was right (when I was) making my decision.”

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