Starting Five Not Important to Buckeyes
by Rob Odgen
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sam Thompson started all 37 games for the Buckeyes a year ago, so it had to be a bit of a surprise when he learned his name wasn't in the starting lineup minutes before the Buckeyes took on Walsh in an exhibition game Sunday.
Thompson is one of three returning Buckeyes that started in every game for Ohio State last season. Neither Shannon Scott nor LaQuinton Ross, who both got the start Sunday, had ever previously started a game at the collegiate level.
After the game, coach Thad Matta called the starting lineup a fluid situation – something that could change from game-to-game.
But none of that matters to Thompson, who said his only concern is winning.
"Nobody on this team cares about who gets called out for the starting lineup," the junior said. "At the end of the day we all want to win, and we all want to do what's best for the program. Whoever gets called to start the game gets called to start the game and that's not gonna take away from anything we do because we're gonna play as hard as we can when we're out there."
Matta went as far as saying that he wishes the in-game operations crew at the Schott wouldn't place so much of an emphasis on the starting lineups by dimming the lights and using pyrotechnics to announce the starters.
He said Sunday's lineup card was filled out based on matchups and how well each player had been performing in practice. The lineup was scribbled on a whiteboard – not etched in stone.
"We find out 14 minutes before the game, after the national anthem," Thompson said. "We come in and coach Matta draws the matchups on the board. I didn't know that I wasn't starting. I honestly didn't have a thought about it before the game.
"So many guys have been playing so well in practice. I think it's pretty common knowledge that Shannon Scott has been the best player on the team in the early weeks of practice. I really didn't know who would be starting. But like we said, nobody cares about the starting lineup, we just care about going out and getting a win."
Matta said again on Friday that the lineup could change periodically. In his nine previous years as Ohio State coach, Matta has never started the same five guys for every game during one season.
The closest he's come was during the 2010-11 season, when Aaron Craft had one start, while the other 36 were started by the same five.
He might have done so during the 2009-10 season if not for a a pair of injuries – most notably to Evan Turner.
But Matta has never really used a time-share, either. The closest he came to doing so was in his first season of 2004-05, when seven different guys garnered at least 12 starts.
Instead of emphasizing who's starting and who's not, Matta prefers to define specific roles for each player, and likes to remind guys coming off that bench that he's had two non-starters drafted in the first round during his time at Ohio State.
Daequan Cook made one start for the Buckeyes during the 2006-07 season and B.J. Mullens made two two years later. Both guys were selected during the first round of the NBA draft.
"We've had some phenomenal sixth men here," Matta said. "From energy guys to guys like Daequan that can came in and get 15 points in three minutes.
"I like the fact that our guys are very selfless in that regard. It's more important who finishes a game than who starts it."
Ironically, the last game Thompson didn't start before Sunday was the exhibition game against Walsh a year ago.
It didn't matter, Thompson finished Sunday's game with 29 minutes – the second most on the team.
Scott said if Sunday's exhibition game was the only one he starts all season, it will be okay with him.
"It really doesn't matter who's starting at the time of the game. As long as you're playing the way you need to be playing, you're gonna be on the court," Scott said. "I don't think anybody is upset if they're starting or not starting."
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