Hard to Question Matta’s Success
By Brandon Castel
COMMENTARY — If you’re like me, you tend to read into every little thing. It’s easy to make mountains out of molehills, as they say, doing things that way.
So when the Buckeyes officially landed their only two signatures during basketball's early signing period on Wednesday, it’s hard not to wonder where the magic went. There were no 7-footers for Thad Matta in the class of 2013. No 5-stars either. No kids who make you jump out of your seat in anticipation for their heralded arrival next summer.
That’s not say Matta and the Buckeyes landed a couple of stiffs on Wednesday. Both Marc Loving and Kameron Williams look like good prospects, guys who will come in and fit what Matta is trying to do with his program.
Loving is a kid who has wanted to be a Buckeye about as long as he’s been alive. The Toledo native has been committed to Ohio State for more than two years, and during that time, he’s developed into exactly the type of player Matta values.
He went from being about 6-5 or 6-6 when Matta first recruited him to being a long 6-8 or 6-9 with a vast wingspan and the ability to play a number of different positions. He’s certainly big enough to play the four, but shoots the ball well enough to be a three.
This is a kid who Matta can develop the same way he developed Evan Turner, who Loving would like to model his game after, and the way he is currently developing Sam Thompson.
The other kid, Williams, is a pure scorer. At 6-2, he’s undersized, but he’s not just a guy who can bomb it from long-range in the mold of a Jeremie Simmons. He can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket or stop and pull up with the mid-range game, but outside shooting is what made him so attractive to Meyer and assistant Dave Dickerson.
Rivals.com rated him as the fourth-best outside shooter in the entire class of 2013.
“A four-star shooting guard from Baltimore, Williams can flat fill it up from deep,” wrote Rivals Basketball Recruiting Analyst Eric Bossi.
“It's his shooting from deep – and incredibly quick trigger – that make him so dangerous. During 25 games of EYBL and Peach Jam play, the Charm City sniper hit on 72-148 (48.6 percent) shots from beyond the stripe.”
So it’s not like Matta came home with a bag of scraps left over from what no one else wanted this year, but that is two years in a row now where he has failed to land a high-profile recruit on the national stage.
And it’s not for a lack of trying. Matta and his staff took a shot at a number of the top available players across the country, only to come up empty outside of Williams and Amedeo Della Valle, a freshman from the class of 2012.
They had former Mississippi State standout Rodney Hood on campus for a visit, but he opted to transfer to Duke. Tony Parker picked UCLA, as did Allerik Freeman. Noah Vonleh opted for Indiana, and even Nigel Hayes, another Toledo kid, recently picked Wisconsin over the Buckeyes.
It’s enough to make you wonder why Matta has come up short recently after such an incredible run of getting guys from Greg Oden to Jared Sullinger to Deshaun Thomas, but Ohio State’s coach took exception to that line of thinking on Wednesday.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“If you look at the last six years, we’re number three in total wins in college basketball history, we’re trying to get our fourth straight Big Ten championship, get to our fourth straight Sweet 16,” he said.
“We know what we’re doing.”
And he’s right. The 45-year old Matta has been the best thing to happen to Ohio State basketball since Fred Taylor landed Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek back in the late 1950s.
After eight seasons, Matta has more wins and a better winning percentage than any basketball coach in school history. He has won at least 20 games every year of his career and more than 30 in three of his eight seasons in Columbus.
Matta has guided the Buckeyes to four Sweet 16s and a pair of Final Fours, and his 116 wins over the last four years are the most of any previous Ohio State coach over a four-year span.
Taylor’s best run was 98 wins from 1960-63, and he had Lucas and Havlicek. Some of that is skewed because teams play more games now than they did 50 years ago, but Matta’s success is more than just wins and losses.
Yes, he has landed blue chip prospects like Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Sullinger and Thomas, but he has also proven to have a tremendous eye for talent. That or an uncanny ability to develop players.
Evan Turner, the 2010 National Player of the Year in college basketball, was rated as a 4-star prospect and the 49th best player in his recruiting class by both Rivals and ESPN. Jon Diebler was rated No. 60 overall in that class and Dallas Lauderdale was a 3-star.
Sullinger and Thomas were both McDonald’s All-Americans in the 2010 recruiting class, but Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith – two starters from Ohio State’s Final Four team a year ago – were not even top 100 prospects.
Even this current group of sophomore, which includes LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, wasn’t all that highly-rated. The class ended up being a top-10 haul for Matta, but Ross (43), Thompson (50) and Scott (53) were all outside the top-40 players in the country.
Same with Amir Williams, but Matta truly believes he can win with this group of guys. He called Della Valle, a 3-star prospect who hails from Italy, one of the smartest basketball players he has ever been around.
There is no guarantee any of these guys will become superstars the way Turner did under Matta’s tutelage, but it’s hard to argue with this coach’s success.
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