Ross made peace with tough season

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Last updated: 11/05/2012 11:43 AM

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Men's Basketball
LaQuinton Ross Made Peace with Tough Rookie Season

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The story of LaQuinton Ross is one of the strangest there is.

LaQuinton Ross
Photo by Jim Davidson
LaQuinton Ross

Some projections have the 6-8 sophomore going in the mid-first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, despite the fact he did not contribute a single meaningful point, rebound, assist or steal during Ohio State’s Final Four run a year ago.

Ross didn’t do much besides sit at the end of Thad Matta’s bench last season, and yet the Buckeyes were as good or better than all but two other teams in the country.

To understand why, and to make sense of how Ross could go from that type of rookie season to being one of the more dangerous scoring wings in the country, we have to go back in time.

Back to December, when Ross returned to the OSU basketball team after missing all of preseason camp and the first eight games of the 2011-12 season, including top-10 battles against Florida and Duke.

“When I came back the team was on a whole different level,” said Ross, who was ruled an academic non-qualifier by the NCAA in September over some discrepancies on his high school transcript.  

“They had already played games. I think I came back the day of the Kansas game, so they had played a lot of competition. They were on a different level, so practice had changed from when I left.”

LaQuinton Ross
Photo by Jim Davidson
LaQuinton Ross

A native of Jackson, Miss., Ross had spent the summer working out with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and the other Buckeyes, getting to know his new teammates. He was part of a big freshman class, one that also included point guard Shannon Scott, big men Amir Williams and Trey McDonald and the high-flying Sam Thompson.

“ ‘Q’ knows how he felt, but it was a boost to have him come back,” Thompson said, using LaQuinton’s customary nickname.

“He’s a great practice player and it was like getting one of our brothers back.”

According to a number of people who saw the Buckeyes last summer, Ross had been a dynamic scorer from the moment he stepped on the court, and former OSU point guard Scoonie Penn called him the best of the newcomers.

A capable outside scorer who could also put the ball on the floor and get to the rack, Ross expected his brothers were just trying to hold on until he could get back to help them win a championship.

That couldn’t have been further from the way it unfolded for Ross, and for the Buckeyes.

“It was really frustrating. I felt like I was a high recruit coming out of high school, and at the time I felt like I could ball with anybody,” Ross said during Ohio State’s media day last month.

“When I got to college, it really humbled me. Coach Matta sat me down and told me why I wasn’t playing, and that was a great experience for me.”

Despite having great length, Ross had never been much of a defensive player in high school, where he was ranked as the No. 1 player in the country before suffering an injury and then transferring to Life Center Academy in New Jersey.

“Defense had stepped all the way up,” Ross acknowledged, “and our defensive system is so complex, it’s hard to cram it all in at once and get back out there on the floor.”

The Buckeyes had already beaten 8th-ranked Florida, and they had blown out No. 4-ranked Duke, 85-63, in Columbus. Things were clicking early for Matta’s group, but when Sullinger was sidelined with a back injury, Ohio State fans were hoping Ross could step in and help the team to victory in the game at Kansas on Dec. 10.

But the freshman had just rejoined the team after being away for three months. He didn’t even know the terminology his teammates were using in practice.

“On offense, when you’re coming off the ball screen and you don’t know they’re trapping because they’re calling out red,” Ross said.

“They’re trapping the ball screen and it was hard to do my offense in practice.”

Ross didn’t remove his warmups for the first four games after rejoining the team. He saw four minutes against Miami of Ohio and three in the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.

Frustration bubbled over, as he played just 28 minutes the rest of the season. He scored a total of 18 points during his entire rookie season, but had 13 in Ohio State’s exhibition game against Walsh University last week.

“I came to peace with it when the season was over last year, and when we won the Big Ten championship and were able to go to the Final Four,” he said.

“I came to peace with myself, like you can’t keep fighting the past.”

Today, Ross is much more focused on the future.

“It’s great to know everything you worked for is right around the corner,” he said.

“I’m definitely ready. I feel like that bench put a bruise on my behind or something, so I’m ready to get out there and play.”

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