Like many other Division I women's basketball teams, the Ohio State women's hoops team practices against a squad of male students who fill the role of a practice squad for the Buckeyes, giving the team an opponent for scrimmages and a counterpart for conditioning drills.
We sat down with one of those players to talk about his time with the team.
Evan Sizemore graduated this May with a degree in sport industry, but before that he spent the past three seasons as a practice player for the Buckeyes. We caught up with him to discuss how he got the position, his relationship with the players and what it's like to get crossed-up by Kelsey Mitchell.
Why does the team want male practice players?
"I don’t want to speak on behalf of the coaching staff for this one, but I can say why I would want them if I was in there position. In my mind we were in the place of having walk-ons to practice against, and we were very low maintenance. We knew our place, and enjoyed doing what we did to help the team. Where if they have a walk on who has a good practice, they might want playing time. If we had a good practice or something we just joked about being unstoppable and kept it moving. We were treated very well, but we were way cheaper than having a couple more walk-ons on the roster. It also gave the girls a different look because they could scrimmage each other and then scrimmage a completely different group of people with different skill sets. So, it helps things not get stale."
How does one become a practice player? Do they have tryouts? Is there any special requirement?
"They do have tryouts a few weeks before training camp starts up. There are usually flyers around campus, and it spreads through word of mouth. You email one of the staff, or managers who are putting it together and show up. I’m pretty sure our requirements were almost the same as any athlete because we have to fill out all of the NCAA, Big Ten, and OSU forms, but I may be wrong."
How good do you have to be to be a practice player? Are you at risk of losing your spot if you start missing too many open jumpers?
"I would say that you have to be basketball competent. I think most of, if not all of us had played throughout high school and a lot of the guys were on the club team at OSU. I was probably the least skilled on the team honestly, but I worked hard on defense and passed the ball pretty well. I think we’re all glad that the coaching staff is pretty understanding with as much as they expect out of us, they are pretty lenient on our bad days. I had more bad days than most, but I think we all had our bad and good days. Switching to the 28.5 (inch ball) when you’ve been playing with a 29.5 (inch ball) most of your life can be a tough change for guys at the start."
What goes into a typical practice? What do you do to help prepare the team? Is it more than just scrimmaging?
"Way more than just scrimmaging goes into being a practice player. Especially during training camp. During training camp the practices are longer and more intense than during the season. So along with the scrimmaging, individual drills, and rebounding we also would be in on drills that helped with conditioning and be on the defensive end of fast break drills. During the season is where we would become more focused on scrimmaging and we would run offensive and defensive sets that the next opponent ran. We were basically the scout team during the season."
Did the players ever get irritated with you guys for playing too hard or did they like to be challenged?
"Well when you get 20 or so competitive people together in a gym for a six month period there are going to be times people get irritated. They liked to be challenged in general, but there were times people could end up playing out of control and that could cause agitation."
Who was the most annoying player to try to guard and how many times have you or somebody else been crossed by Kelsey Mitchell?
"The most annoying players to guard for me were our post players. The practice players aren’t the tallest bunch, so there were a lot of times I would be there 6’1” on a good day and have to guard Steph and Alexa. Which was no easy task, as was trying to score on those players.
"She pretty much crossed me into oblivion on the first play of my practice career, and I had to get tagged out of the drill by another practice player so I could tie my shoes and try to regain some of my dignity."– Evan Sizemore on Kelsey Mitchell
Kelsey is the hardest player to guard because there are just so many ways she can beat you. I think everyone on the practice team got crossed by her at least once, even though some would never admit it. My very first practice I came straight from class our video coordinator at the time, Myia, told me to come through and meet every one. So I show up in some old basketball shoes that I wear everywhere, basketball shorts, and a baseball tee. I’m meeting people while practice is going on, and Coach McGuff looks at me and tells me to jump into this fastbreak drill. I’m not about to tell the head coach no, and make a bad impression. So, I jump in before even having the opportunity to tie my shoes. It just happened that I was supposed to guard Kelsey coming downhill with the ball. She pretty much crossed me into oblivion on the first play of my practice career, and I had to get tagged out of the drill by another practice player so I could tie my shoes and try to regain some of my dignity."
How was your relationship with the team? Did you guys get along? Were you friends?
"I think it was good relationship with the team. We would joke around during down time and commiserate during the early practices. They would love to get on people who hadn’t been there in a while because they got a break the players didn’t."
Who was the player you got along with the best during your time there and why?
"Shayla Cooper for sure. She and I have the same type of personality where we love to joke and mess around, but when the whistle blows its game on. I remember when she first transferred here was when I started coming to practice, and she was injured and couldn’t practice. She just kept telling us how lucky we were she wasn’t out there and I just kept telling her she was lucky she couldn’t be embarrassed from over there. She always loved to joke with people before the play would start to kind of take them off guard when she would go straight into 100 percent."
Who wins one-on-one, you or Kelsey Mitchell? And is she as good in practice as she looks during games?
"Kelsey for sure. She is no joke. I remember her freshman year after the season I saw her playing with some of the football guys at the RPAC and she was putting them on skates too. We play her almost every day, know most of her moves pretty well, and still have fits stopping her. She is every bit as good in practice, and just has a hunger to get better every day that’s impressive."
What's your favorite memory from your time as a practice player?
"I think the memory that encapsulates my time as a practice player was the last practice before the Sweet 16 this year. At the end of practice there’s always a huddle, coaches say a few words, than we break it down. (OSU Coach Kevin) McGuff took time to thank us for everything, and let us know how much they appreciated the practice players. That may seem small, but it’s the little things like that they did almost every practice.
They never had to make us feel like a real part of the team because a lot of places I’m sure they don’t treat the practice guys that way, but it’s the culture that staff has created that makes it enjoyable and such a rewarding experience. They always will hit you with a good practice, or thanks for coming. And if you ever need help with anything they’re more than willing to help if they’re capable. So, I think that’s the biggest thing I took away from it was the way they treated us, and were willing to help and show gratitude however they could."
What's something you wish the average fan saw about the team that would maybe give them a greater appreciation for what they do?
"How fast this team really plays. Not only do they play with speed, but they usually play very efficiently with speed. Which is impressive on its own, but seeing it in practice every day and seeing the conditioning that goes into that is very impressive."