Another Thrilling Hoops Season
Usually this space is reserved for a hodgepodge of extra quotes from several different teams that are under the umbrella coverage of SportsRappUp.com.
However, the Ohio State basketball team made another deep postseason run this spring that included a Big Ten Tournament championship – the program’s third straight conference tourney net-cutter – and ended in Los Angeles a win short of the Final Four.
Once again, Thad Matta took the Buckeyes to the end of March and basketball Buckeyes fans experienced a thrilling campaign – and some heartache at the very end.
The action was so fast and furious we’ve let the dust settle and compiled some of the best quotes that were left behind as Ohio State made its journey through a palpitating 29-8 season that included contests with eight top-10 teams.
The Buckeyes suffered preconference losses in high-profile contests with Duke and Kansas and endured embarrassing 20-plus-point defeats at Illinois and Wisconsin, but they also rose up to knock off rivals Michigan in Columbus and Indiana in Bloomington when each was ranked No. 2 in the country.
Despite coming up just a hair short of a piece of yet another Big Ten title – which wasn’t decided until a Michigan layup attempt vs. IU rolled off the rim in the final seconds of the regular-season finale – OSU made its mark in Chicago with wins over Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That set up crowd-pleasing results in Dayton with wins over Iona and Iowa State and another nail-biter against Arizona in L.A. LaQuinton Ross’ game-winning three in overtime marked OSU’s 11th straight victory, but the balloon finally burst two days later in an Elite Eight loss to Wichita State.
It was another memorable and exciting campaign, certainly worthy of its own Quote Me recognition.
Here then are the hoops-related quotes of interest that almost got away through the course of the season, presented in semi-chronological order:
Matta discussing Ross’ development heading into the 2012-13 season – “It’s getting him to understand what he has to do within his capabilities to help us win games. I think he’s had a great spring, he’s had a good summer in the weight room and that sort of thing. It’s going to be a little bit new to him but by the same token going through the same practices and having been in the arena hopefully he’ll be ready to go.”
Former Buckeye great and current CBS analyst Clark Kellogg on his preseason assessment of OSU – “They will surprise on the high side. That’s my initial feeling, that they will not be expected to be as good as they’re going to be. I think Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are going to come back determined to prove that Sully (Jared Sullinger) and Will (Buford) are gone but we’re still here and we’ve got stuff to prove ourselves.”
Matta on the Nov. 28 mathup with Duke – “I hope in 25 years that our program is still at the level that it is, because that’s exactly what Duke has done. They’ve stood the test of time. There’s been a lot of great players rolling through there. We’ve had a lot of great players. Not as many because we haven’t been here that long. They recruit at the highest level; we attempt to recruit at the highest level.”
Matta on how difficult it would be to stay at OSU as long and be as beloved as Mike Krzyzewski is at Duke – “(Lou Holtz) told me, ‘Don’t ever stay for more than seven years at a place because the longer you stay the more you fall in love with it but the more they fall out of love with you.’ It’s funny because my seventh year we were 34-3 and we won by 12 and people were like, ‘only 12?’ ”
Matta on going to Cameron Indoor Stadium and a similar ACC/Big Ten Challenge road game at North Carolina in 2006 – “It had to be 120 degrees on the court because at halftime my pants were stuck to my leg.”
Matta on Kansas’ Dec. 22 visit and his developing rivalry with KU head coach Bill Self – “Obviously he’s proven with the success he’s had. He is in an elite crowd in terms of coaches and his assistants have gone on as head coaches. I’ve got the utmost respect for him and the job that he’s done over the course of time.”
Craft on the surprising effectiveness of sophomore center Amir Williams vs. Kansas – “It’s in him (to play like this every game). He is growing and just needs more experience. He needs to continue to be consistent in these big game situations. He can come in and make an impact immediately.”
Kansas guard Ben McLemore on Shannon Scott igniting OSU off the bench – “He surprised me with his speed. He can get up the floor fast. Thankfully, we slowed them down in the second half in transition defense.”
Self on the Jayhawks’ 74-66 win, Kansas’ third over OSU in the course of a year – “The first time we played last year, Sullinger didn’t play. The second time we played, they controlled the game and we made some plays late in the game. Today’s probably the best we’ve played against Ohio State in three games.”
Matta on the same subject – “The first game we played them was hard just because we weren’t at full strength. To be honest this game was a lot like the second half of the Final Four game in New Orleans where the ball just wouldn’t go in the basket for us. The leadership they have … I haven’t had four seniors in about eight years. And Ben McLemore is as good as any player in the country.”
Ross on his off-court personality – “I’m a real laid-back guy. I’m not too much into parties. I’m a real gentle guy, laid-back and goofy. I’m the one sitting back and cracking jokes.”
Ross on Scott – “He’s like a little pest. He’s like the brother that you didn’t want.”
Matta on if he planned to go out and celebrate the pay raise the university granted him in January – “Not with these new tax laws.”
Matta on the school recognizing his efforts since becoming OSU head coach in the summer of 2004 – “One of the things I’m most proud of is what we built here. We were at Ground Zero nine years ago in terms of the uncertainty of the future of our program, and we’ve been very, very fortunate with the teams that we’ve had and the job that the coaches have done.
“For me personally, I’m a lot more proud of that than I am with a contract. I feel as blessed as I can be to be at Ohio State. I love this university and I’m extremely grateful in terms of what they’ve allowed me to do and how they’ve taken care of me throughout the time I’ve been here.”
Gangly freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle on being a fan favorite – “I like it a lot. I really see myself being like a regular student and most of the students maybe see themselves as me, because maybe I don’t look like a basketball player. They can tell I’m working really hard to try to be successful.”
Matta on Sullinger’s rookie season with the Boston Celtics being cut short because of back surgery – “I haven’t talked to Jared. We’ve texted back and forth, and the first thing I texted when he got out of surgery was, ‘Please tell me you can move both your feet.’ You hate to see it, but in talking his agent, David Falk, he broke it down for me, why they did what they did, and I think long-term it was definitely the right thing to do.”
Craft on his rematch at Michigan with fellow Ohioan and UM point guard Trey Burke – “He comes from a great family and they definitely keep him grounded. That’s what it takes. I’ve seen him be very successful at just about every level. It’s great to see another guy we kind of grew up with having some great success.”
Scott on another Ohio-based point guard, Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson (son of former Buckeye great Jim Jackson) – “I played him like a couple times in AAU, not too much. With the game against Minnesota where he got the last shot, he probably has great confidence and he’s playing great basketball right now. I think guarding him is going to be a great challenge for me, but I believe that I’ll be ready for it.”
Sophomore and Chicago-area native Sam Thompson on going back to familiar environs before the team’s trip to Northwestern – “It’s weird. We fly into the airport and drive through downtown Chicago, going past things I’ve seen for the last 20 years. I can’t go home and I can’t do the things I normally do in the city. So it’s kind of a weird feeling. But it’s definitely fun to go home and play in front of my family and my friends.”
Matta on the team getting hot after an eye-opening 71-49 loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 17 – “There’s going to be ups and downs. I remember two years ago we got to 24-0 at one point and in there after the game we’d be all upset at how we played, and (assistant coach) Dave Dickerson, who just left Tulane, would be like, ‘Hey, fellas, I only won nine last year. I’m having the time of my life. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.’ ”
Craft on losing his title as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, which went to Indiana forward Victor Oladipo – “Victor did a great job of coming out and having a great year. I don’t think it’s a knock on me. I think it just attests to what he was able to do, and he did a lot. He’s that guy out there you’re always worrying about on the defensive end and you’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”
Thomas on Craft being listed as a candidate on ESPN.com’s Most Hated Pool – “I voted for him.”
Craft on the same subject – “I would love to win that one, too. I do know that I have a higher seed in that tournament than (OSU video coordinator) Greg Paulus. I just like to make sure to let him know I continue to beat him at various things. But I’ve got a tough matchup with Joakim Noah. That’s a tough one, but we’ll try to pull the upset.”
Craft on the comparison to Paulus, a former Duke point guard – “It is what it is. I know I wasn’t the fondest of Gregory when he played and I’m assuming it’s probably similar to what’s going on right now with me. Greg’s one of the nicest guys I know. I didn’t know him (then), I just chose not to like him very much.”
Matta, at the Big Ten Tournament, on the notion that a league team needs to win a national championship soon to confirm its reputation as an elite basketball conference – “Yeah, it’d be nice. That team we had in ’07 was as good a basketball team as I’ve ever seen but wouldn’t you know we’re playing the defending national champs with five starters back. There’s a lot of things that happen and a lot of it is matchups and who gets rolling. I think there are some teams in this league who have a legitimate shot to win it this year.”
Matta on hearing the news that 13-year Northwestern coach Bill Carmody had been let go by the school – “I think Bill Carmody maybe has the best offensive mind of any coach I’ve ever seen in my life, and I think he could be the most unlucky with the injuries just in the time I’ve been here with nine years in the league. It’s amazing to see the things that have happened to his team.
“We’re No. 1 in the country a couple years ago and John Shurna runs into a basket support and has a concussion and can’t play against us – and we go down to the wire. Who could win and keep coaching those guys and stay competitive with what he lost this year?
“He’s one of the greatest human beings and he coaches as well as anybody.”
Matta on his preference for OSU’s soon-to-be-announced NCAA Tournament bracket – “Dayton hasn’t been real kind to us so I don’t want to go there. We haven’t fared too well there – 1 and 2.”
Matta on going to the postseason – “Ohio State, the thing I’ve learned – and I like it about it – people either love Ohio State or they hate Ohio State. There’s no gray area.”
OSU assistant Jeff Boals on the “one-way conversation” between the coaches and players after the loss at Wisconsin – “You look at the tape and you could see it wasn’t normal Buckeye basketball. Our guys understood that. Thad did a great job of making them understand that the next two days in practice. We watched a lot of tape, did a lot of talking, and they corrected it.
“They always say the tape doesn’t lie, and these kids have personal pride and team pride. When you let your teammates down, that’s when you feel the worst.
“He made it clear that’s not acceptable. We told them they embarrassed the university, embarrassed the team and embarrassed themselves. That’s not what he stands for, and wasn’t going to let it happen.”
Lenzelle Smith on Ohio State shooting a high percentage and getting to empty the bench in the NCAA tourney blowout of Iona – “It does a lot. A lot of guys got to see the ball go in, which is very good. They can relax a little bit and the pressure is not really on their shoulders anymore.”
Senior Evan Ravenel on the Gaels coming into the game with no apparent fear of the Buckeyes – “When someone’s talking trash to you or saying stuff through the media, you kind of want to take your game up to another level. It does add fuel to the fire.”
Boals after the Buckeyes nipped Iowa State to return to the Sweet 16 – “We’re playing with a lot of confidence, and our three guys off the bench – Ravenel, LaQuinton Ross and Shannon – are all giving us something different. It’s different from game to game, it’s different things at the defensive end and different things at the offensive end. When those guys started playing that’s when we kind of lifted off.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller on preparing to face OSU and his good friend Matta – “It’s not like they’re a bad team on offense. I think they’re really good. They’re not as talented, maybe, as some of the most recent Ohio State teams, but they make up for it with really unselfishness and togetherness. They have a guy that gets 20 every night, Deshaun Thomas, who from a scoring perspective, is as good as it gets.
“They play together on both ends of the floor. Aaron Craft is exceptional at what he does. Deshaun Thomas is equally exceptional at what he does, and they have a lot of other good players that play Ohio State basketball.”
Thompson, after the loss to Wichita State, on the exit of Ravenel – “It’s been a great honor to play with Evan these last two years. I wish him the best of luck wherever life may take him. My hat is off to him for a great Ohio State career. He did a lot of good, he’s a great teammate and I love him to death.”