Q’s Coming-of-Age Tale Started with a Bump in the Road
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — Standing outside the Ohio State locker room in Dayton, Ohio last Sunday, LaQuinton Ross couldn’t help but smile.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He tried to hold it back, but he was feeling too darn good.
Good about himself, good about his teammates, good about the fact he was finally playing a major role on the big stage with a team that seems to have a glint of destiny in its eye.
“I’m feeling great,” he said, braces flashing out from underneath his tentative smile.
“I’m feeling like I did back in my high school days, where I knew I could do what I wanted to out there. Knocking down shots and doing what I do best.”
It has only been two years, but Ross is a long a way removed from his high school days. Far from the days when he was widely considered to be one of the top two or three players in the entire 2011 recruiting class.
“You got a lot of that attention in high school, but in college it slimmed down a lot,” Ross said Friday.
A little? How about lot.
Ross burst on to the national basketball recruiting scene when he was only a 7th-grader. A young teenager not yet able to drive, he could barely tie his own Nike sneakers and yet Ross was already being hyped as the next big thing in college basketball.
“My circle of people around were telling me to stay focused and stay humble,” Ross recalled.
“I hadn’t even made it to high school yet, let alone college.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Word about Ross began to swirl after he attended a Nike Elite camp down in Houston. He was there with the best players in his recruiting class – a class that would eventually include names like Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Austin Rivers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ben McLemore and Otto Porter.
“It was like the top 100 players in the country and I ended up being the No. 1 player coming out of that camp,” Ross said.
“After that, when everybody finds out about it they’re like, ‘that’s him, that’s him’.”
That’s the way it was for Ross all the way through high school. Even a nasty ankle injury couldn’t keep him from being one of the more highly-recruited players in the country. He signed with Ohio State, but everything changed after he was ruled an academic non-qualifier just before the start of his freshman season.
“It was difficult watching all the guys I had played with over the summer,” he said.
“I remember thinking I should have been out there playing with them.”
Instead, Ross was back home in Jackson, Miss. He had to get his academics cleared up from a high school transfer to Life Center Academy in New Jersey, and suddenly Ross found himself back on the open market.
He was a recruit all over again.
“I talked to Georgetown and Baylor,” he admitted.
“I talk to a couple schools just because I didn’t want to be rude, but I knew in my heart I was going back to Ohio State.”
He had made Thad Matta and the OSU coaches a promise to return when he regained eligibility. That happened just as the Buckeyes were getting ready to enter a brutal stretch of Big Ten play.
Instead of jumping right back in to the mix, Ross found himself in an unfamiliar place at the end of Ohio State’s bench.
“It starts out as anger,” he said.
“It was definitely hard for me, especially when you get the same question over and over again. People didn’t see me on the floor like they did in high school, so they were wondering what happened. ‘Did he fall off? Or what’s going on’? ”
All the questions got to Q.
“I think he was a little rebellious last year,” OSU point guard Aaron Craft said.
“He knew he wasn’t going to play a ton so he didn’t really lose himself in the game.”
With questions swirling in his head, Ross started to pout. He stopped working hard and started to intentionally ignore what his coaches were trying to tell him. He didn’t realize he was only hurting himself in the process.
“I was pretty immature,” he admitted.
“My game and ability was still the same, but my thinking was pretty immature. I was a top-ranked recruit coming in. I was playing 32 minutes a game in high school, but now I’m wondering why I’m not playing.”
Ross says he never really considered a transfer, but mainly because he didn’t want to spend another year sitting a the end of someone’s bench before he would be eligible to play.
“That’s immature thinking,” he said now.
“The easy route is transferring. That’s the easy route for anybody. Just leave and go play somewhere else, or you can step up your game and work harder.”
To his credit, Ross chose to the latter route.
“He saw the team was going to move on with or without him, and he wanted to be with us,” Craft said.
“So he’s jumped on board and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to.”
It certainly wasn’t an immediate transformation, but there were early signs Ross had taken a different approach to his sophomore season. After playing only nine minutes in Ohio State’s 73-68 loss at Duke, Ross exploded for 22 points and eight rebounds in a 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky.
He followed it up with 16 points and nine rebounds the next game against Long Beach State, followed by 13 and nine against Savannah State. It wasn’t enough to earn him many big minutes early in the Big Ten season, but it was glimpses of the player who was once considered a better prospect than Cody Zeller.
“I think I’ve progressed a lot,” Ross said coming off back-to-back games with 17 points in the NCAA Tournament.
“If people go back and look at tape from the beginning of the year when I was kind of shaky out there to now, I think I’ve done great.”
The scary thing about it is he’s just getting started Ohio State. Unless the NBA comes calling first.
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