Skull Session: Anthony Davis Almost Played For Ohio State, Ted Carter Calls Athletics ”The Front Porch of the University” and Gene Smith Joins the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors

By Chase Brown on February 29, 2024 at 5:00 am
Anthony Davis
Petre Thomas / USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Ohio State women's basketball has won the Big Ten OUTRIGHT.

Have a good Thursday.

 BUCKS AT THE COMBINE. From Thursday to Sunday, Mike Hall, Cade Stover, Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers, Josh Proctor, Miyan Williams and Matt Jones will work out at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

On Wednesday, Ohio State football's media team released videos for each of the former Buckeyes who will be in Indianapolis, including Marvin Harrison Jr., who will not work out at the combine.

Tommy Eichenberg

Steele Chambers

Miyan Williams

Mike Hall

Matt Jones

Marvin Harrison Jr.

Josh Proctor

Cade Stover

This week, Eleven Warriors editor and lead football reporter Dan Hope is in Indianapolis to cover the Buckeyes at the combine. He's created an Ohio State NFL Combine Central page where we will feature photos, videos, stories and more so 11W readers can have up-to-date information from Lucas Oil Stadium.

Here, too, is a link to our NFL Combine Viewing Guide, which includes television and streaming information regarding how and when to watch former Ohio State players perform at the combine.

 OH, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. Former Ohio State men’s basketball guard D’Angelo Russell has a podcast called “The Backyard Podcast.” He hosts it with Logan Linkmeyer and Lawrence Johnson. Last week, Russell welcomed his Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Anthony Davis, on the show to discuss the Lakers, NBA, Team USA, Kentucky and more.

While Russell and Davis conversed about the Wildcats, Davis revealed that before he committed and signed his National Letter of Intent to Kentucky, he had been a verbal commit to Ohio State and then-head coach Thad Matta:

“I was a huge LeBron James fan. Growing up, I had all his shoes, wore number 23 — all of that. He was him. That made me want to go to Ohio State. Obviously, he never went there, but (because of) the support he had for the program. Thad Matta was the coach. I didn’t know that (Lakers assistant coach Chris Jent) was a part of that. …  My recruiter was Jeff Boals. He was my guy. I told him that I was committing. I verbally committed to Ohio State. 

“Then, my pops was like, ‘Let’s go to Kentucky and see Coach (Calipari).’ At the time, Demarcus (Cousins), John (Wall) and Eric (Bledsoe) just went to the league. My pops said, ‘Man, we’re trying to get to the league.’ So I’m like, ‘Alright, cool. I’ll go on an official visit.’ But I’m in Cal’s office, and I’m like, whatever, because I’m going to Ohio State. I made up my mind. But once I left Kentucky, he would tell me, ‘You’re not guaranteed to start here. You’ll come and earn your spot.’ I think that’s what triggered me (to commit to Kentucky). Nothing would be given to me. I got it nice now, but I gotta see if I’m really nice to be able to be on the floor with these guys.

"The next day, I was in the car headed back to Chicago — we drove like five and a half hours — and I’m like, ‘Pops, I gotta go to Kentucky.’ He was like, ‘Alright, that’s fine, but you gotta call Ohio State, be a man, and tell them that you’re decommitting. I called Matta, and he was all excited to talk to me not knowing I was about to tell him, like, I’m cool off Ohio State now. He was like, ‘Man, what did we do wrong? What do we have to do?’ I told him, ‘Honestly, this ain’t got nothing to do with y’all. I just feel like I gotta be at Kentucky.’ … It was hard. … Ohio State had it rocking, you know? Big Ten, football, all of that. But I felt like, when I went to Kentucky, it was like, ‘This is it.’”



At 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, Davis was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2011 class according to the 247Sports composite. Had Davis come to Ohio State, he would have started at center, rounding out a lineup that featured point guard Aaron Craft, shooting guard William Buford, small forward Deshaun Thomas and power forward Jared Sullinger.

That Ohio State lineup, without Davis, went 31-8 overall, won the Big Ten Tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes defeated Loyola (Maryland), Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse en route to the Final Four, where their season ended at the hands of Kansas, 64-62, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

That Ohio State lineup, with Davis, would have won the whole f— thing.

In his lone season with the Wildcats, Davis was a first-team All-American who averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 (!) blocks per game. He also shot 62.3% from the field. If Ohio State had been able to add that kind of production to its roster in 2011-12,  the Buckeyes would have created one of the greatest college basketball super teams of all time. It would have been incredible.

Alas, Davis went to Kentucky and won Calipari a championship. The Wildcats went 38-2 and won an SEC regular-season title, SEC Tournament title and national title thanks to the combined greatness of Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, among others.

And the rest is history…

 PRESIDENT SLAPSHOT. Ohio State president Ted Carter appeared on 97.1 The Fan’s “Morning Juice” on Wednesday to discuss his first couple of months in Columbus. He also described his plans to work hand-in-hand with Ohio State’s athletic department and future athletic director Ross Bjork as the Buckeyes navigate the evolving world of college sports in 2024 and beyond.

On his first two months as Ohio State’s president

“It’s been exciting. It’s been like drinking out of a firehose. There’s a lot to learn here. But I will tell you, every day that I am here, it’s a validation that I am where I am supposed to be. I’m really excited to be here in Columbus and at The Ohio State University.”

On his decision to become Ohio State’s president

“Well, my whole life, 38 years in the Navy, spending a lot of time at sea, flying jets, running aircraft carriers and, then, leading academia at a place like the Naval Academy, I found that I had a passion to want to continue not only to serve but serve in higher education. I was really fortunate Nebraska came and found me. I really appreciate my time in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Omaha. I spent four years there. Ohio State recruited me just as they did in Nebraska. The reason I came to Ohio State is because Ohio State is top in the nation in just about everything that they do. From academics to scholarship to research, to the arts, medicine and clinical care. And, of course, athletics. The was attractive to me. … I know that the podium is bigger here at Ohio State, and I want to be at that podium to have that conversation. Our nation needs higher education. I’m proud to be a spokesperson for that.”

On if he plans to be involved with Ohio State’s athletics

“Absolutely. It’s one of the main pillars of the university. I use the phrase, ‘The front porch of the university.’ It’s what draws everybody in the state of Ohio — and, quite frankly, across the nation — to our campus; it’s our athletics. We have 36 Division I programs and the largest revenue-generating athletic department in the United States. 

"I’ve been in athletics. As a youth, I played sports all through high school. I played four years of ice hockey at Navy as the king captain in 1981. I was involved in NCAA and Navy athletics when I was superintendent at the Naval Academy for five years. I was the voting member for Nebraska in the Chancellor’s and President’s Council in the Big Ten. 

"(Athletics were) a draw for me to be here. Gene Smith and I knew each other before I came here. I love Gene Smith. There’s no replacing him. But I’m excited about our future with Ross Bjork. He is the future for us in the athletic department. … I will be involved. I was involved at Nebraska when I had to make the decision to let Scott Frost go as a football coach. I was involved in hiring Matt Rhule. So yes, I will. … I will empower Gene as he’s here with us until the end of June. When Ross takes over in June, there are a lot of big things to do.”

On what stands out about Ross Bjork

“First of all, his leadership capabilities coming in. He was the youngest athletic director ever selected to a Power Five program when he went to Ole Miss. He was the youngest athletic director when he went to Western Kentucky. He’s got a lot of experience at a relatively young age. He’ll have the type of runway out in front of him that Gene Smith had when he came here. Quite frankly, Ross has some real background in some of the changing landscape (in college football) and conference realignment. Having somebody come from the SEC into the Big Ten, I think that’s a plus. His energy and fundraising capabilities make him the whole package. In interviews, when I looked across (the table) — and we had a lot of great candidates — Ross was a clear winner in that interview. … Along with our search committee, I was blown away by what he’s going to bring here. I think people will be excited when they get to know him more.”

May I say, “The front porch of the university” is such an excellent description of an athletic department and its sports programs. Ask 10 people what comes to mind when they hear “Ohio State,” and I bet most, if not all, of them would respond with something sports-related (and probably football-related). 

Over the past 50 to 100 years, sports have put Ohio State on the map. It makes all the sense in the world that Carter would want to work closely with Bjork, ensuring that the Block O remains front of mind for those who have an interest in college football, basketball and more. Based on what he said about his time at the Naval Academy and Nebraska, I am sure he will feel comfortable doing so. 

 THE NEXT CHAPTER. Many have wondered – I know I have – about where Gene Smith will end up after he retires as Ohio State’s athletic director in June. The answer? To be determined. Smith wants to complete his 19-year tenure with the Buckeyes before he decides what comes around the corner.

Still, as spring and summer come, so too will announcements about Smith’s next chapter. One of those announcements arrived on Wednesday, as the Fiesta Bowl revealed Smith will return to its Board of Directors in 2024. Smith was previously a member of the board from 2001-05 when he was athletic director at Arizona State.

From a Fiesta Bowl press release:

In four months, Smith's trailblazing career on campus will close, but his work to make a difference on and off the field will continue with the Fiesta Bowl in a growing role on the Board of Directors. He first joined the Board in 2001 while overseeing the Sun Devils athletics program before vacating his spot when moving to Columbus. When the invitation to come back came 20 years later, it was natural to say yes.
For someone who has left a legacy of making a difference, his volunteerism on the Fiesta Bowl's Board of Directors is a perfect fit.
"When I was at Arizona State University, I was fortunate to work with the Fiesta Bowl to host games at Sun Devil Stadium," Smith said. "I knew their level of hospitality, which is the best in the business, so when I had the opportunity to come back on the Board, I embraced it. The things that the organization does are just phenomenal. All the different charities that they are involved in, the different young people that they have helped – the teachers and all of the programs – this is a great organization to be a part of. Great people and an unbelievable mission."

The press release also celebrated Smith’s career as an athletic director at Eastern Michigan (1986-93), Iowa State (1993-2000), Arizona State (2000-05) and Ohio State (2005-24). It championed his role as a “pioneer for representation in college athletics administration.” In doing so, the Fiesta Bowl’s communications team interviewed UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond and Washington State athletic director Pat Chun to learn more about the impact Smith had on their career trajectories.

"Gene has meant everything to my career," Jarmond said. "I was blessed and fortunate to spend eight years with him (at Ohio State). What I learned, I can't put a value on. I can't begin to tell you how much he has meant to me, not only as an administrator, but as a man – as a Black man. The way he cares about people, his emotional intelligence, the way he leads with his heart; he's just one of the best I've ever seen do it."


"It's impossible for me to quantify in words the impact he's had on me professionally and personally," said Chun, the first Asian-American athletic director to lead a Power Five school at Washington State who spent 15 years at Ohio State with Smith. "His job title may have changed, but at his core, he is a coach at heart. This business is about developing young people, but part of what makes Gene extraordinary is not only his willingness, but his ability to get the most out of people. I'm one of the many who benefitted from his broad, extraordinary skill sets."

As I have said before in the Skull Session, Gene’s retirement makes me feel happy and sad. I am happy that he will receive well-deserved and well-earned rest. I am sad that Ohio State will be without the compassionate, patient leader that Smith has been for the Buckeyes’ athletic department and its 36 varsity programs.

I’ve witnessed Gene’s compassion and patience in many ways over the years. Whether it was press conferences at the Woody, exclusive interviews for The Lantern, Buckeye Sports Bulletin or Eleven Warriors, he carried himself with those qualities in mind. 

But that’s just my perspective as a media member.

I have also been blessed to witness Gene’s compassion and patience as my mom’s boss.

My mom, Holly Vargo-Brown, is the synchronized swimming coach at THE Ohio State University. That meant many Saturdays and Sundays at Ohio State’s McCorkle Aquatics Pavillion from my early childhood and on. Gene would often sit with my family as we cheered for the Buckeyes. He would also take celebratory pictures after wins or even hoist (one of the 34) national championship trophies with the swimmers. He was one of the program’s most incredible supporters.

Gene is a good man with a good heart. He will be missed at Ohio State.

As Ted Carter said in his radio interview, “There’s no replacing him.”

I, once again, extend my congratulations to Gene for his retirement, and I look forward to what comes with his next chapter – Fiesta Bowl board member and all.

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