Is Ross Ready To Take Over?

By Jeff Rapp, June 11th, 2013

Welcome to what we like to call the Ruckus, but only because this segment of the site lead to lively discussion and debate, not because anyone is trying to shake up the world.

In this installment, Jeff Rapp sits down with Matt McCoy, the renowned sports director at 610 WTVN (AM) in Columbus, along with WTVN basketball analyst Tony White. They got together for the final on-air session of  “Bucksline” to wrap up an Ohio State basketball season that culminated with a disappointing loss to Wichita State in the Elite Eight.

The panel was left to try to analyze what had just happened in Los Angeles as favored OSU fell into a deep crevice against the Shockers, nearly climbed out and then floundered again in the final minutes of a 70-66 loss, ending the season with a mark of 29-8.

The conversation started with the trio offering various post mortems, assessing the decision of Deshaun Thomas to leave the program a year early for a shot at the NBA, but eventually shifted to a positive – the emergence of 6-8 sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross.

A former OSU swim team captain, McCoy has been covering Ohio State basketball for basically two decades and also serves as the PA announcer for home games at the Schottenstein Center. He was there when the Buckeyes made Final Four runs in 1999 and 2007 and he was there for the lean years as well.

White was a senior co-captain at OSU in 1988-89, graduated from the university and went on to earn a law degree from Northwestern University. He currently serves as the partner-in-charge of the Columbus branch of Thompson Hine law firm and also is a television analyst for high school basketball on Sports Time Ohio.

Rapp, of course, is the owner/editor of SportsRappUp.com. He had just attended NCAA Tournament games and the Big Ten Tournament – just as he has done ever since the latter event began in 1998.

We pick up their conversation at the WTVN studios with the “On Air” sign glowing:

McCoy: One thing I did want to mention was during this run and during this postseason, the play of LaQuinton Ross, we talked so much, Tony, about his potential and you really saw a kid turn a corner in terms of confidence. And in terms, it almost seemed like to me, guys, the confidence that the staff had in him, too, starting with, I mentioned when they played Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament finale. It was striking to me that with five minutes left in the game not only is he out there but they’re designing plays and saying, “Go win the game for us, kid,” and he did. And then that carried over into the NCAA Tournament.

So if you’re looking ahead and trying to put behind the bitter loss (in the Elite Eight) and you look to next year and with this kid developing, Tony, what do you see when you in the future for one LaQuinton Ross?

White: I’m going to driving around and traveling all over the state of Ohio for the next three nights, and I’m expecting the people that I see to engage me in basketball talk. They want to talk Ohio State basketball. I bet LaQuinton Ross, in the dismal failure of that game – great season for Ohio State, great season for Thad Matta, tremendous season, another one, they deserve a lot of credit – but in the dismal ashes of failure of that game, I think a lot of people want to talk about LaQuinton Ross.

He went from a kid in October, November when I said he is the worst defensive player I have ever seen wear a uniform in the Big Ten – and I was not exaggerating; he was terrible; it’s hard for me to picture how bad he could be worse than he was to that point – to the second half of that game against Wichita State.

The half started and I’m going, “OK, Ohio State’s going to make a run here. Right?” And they didn’t. They looked like the same team from the first 20 minutes and nobody was making any shots, nobody was looking like they wanted to take a shot. It was just like, “Oh, my gosh, why aren’t they aren’t (the Shockers) laying down and losing like they are supposed to in this game?” And I said to myself, “It’s time for LaQuinton Ross to come into this game and not leave it until Ohio State either wins of loses.”

McCoy: Yeah.

White: That’s the progress this kid has made. He’s now adequate defensively. He still makes mistakes every now and then, but he’s adequate defensively. He’s giving it a lot more effort. Offensively, he was the best player Ohio State had on the court, and it really wasn’t even close. Deshaun Thomas, with all his accolades, it wasn’t even close in that game, especially in the second half, as to who was the best player in an Ohio State uniform.

So I give that kid a lot of credit, and, boy, I hope, I I hope, he focuses in the offseason and works on the things he needs to work on, because if he does the kid could be a special player.

McCoy: Yeah, I think about, Jeff, and we talked about this a few weeks ago, when they played Kansas at home. He was out there and I’ve never seen a player look that scared.

Rapp: Lost lamb.

McCoy: He had that deer-in-the-headlight look. You could see his mind trying to think about “What do I need to do?” and he was so worried about making a mistake. And to watch him over the last month just confident and making plays … man. That Arizona game, not only the three at the end, but the drives to the basket and the plays he was making, my goodness, he’s come a long way.

Rapp: Yeah, big-time plays. He had a couple in the Big Ten Tournament, too, but that second scoop shot against Arizona, he’s about 35 feet from the basket when he begins that drive. The ground he covers on those last two steps, I had to watch it a couple times because I couldn’t believe it. I thought he must have traveled.

He’s a special talent offensively. He’s got a beautiful stroke. He was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line (vs. Wichita State). So if he can learn to play in the context of the way Ohio State wants to play and they get him more attuned to what they’re doing on each end of the court … I think that’s what these coaches are going to tell him. They do sit down and meet with these kids at the end of the season as Tony knows and I know you know, Matt, too.

I think you sit down with him and you say, “Look, tremendous season, great breakout season. We see all kinds of hope and promise for you. We like where your offensive arc is right now. We’ve got to get you a little stronger still, we’ve got to get you a little bit more urgent on the defensive end and playing the way we need you to play, but when you get there the world is going to open up for you. You’re going to have games where you explode for us.”

He’s a tough matchup at 6-8 legitimately and he’s got the long stride, and as I said the beautiful touch. I see a lot of potential with him, and I’m sure NBA scouts do as well.

And I think that’s why you’ve got to be a little careful in how you deal with him in the offseason, just because he’s on that radar now and you don’t want him only thinking about that. You want him thinking about, quite frankly, the hurt they just experienced and tell him, “We don’t want to feel that again and you can help us get over the hump if you keep going the way you’re going.”

McCoy: Larry Larson was out there covering the tournament for us and did a great job out in Los Angeles, and he said when he went in the locker room it was total devastation and always feels badly for the kids in that situation. But he was struck by Ross. He said he really seemed like he took it very, very hard, like as hard as anyone.

Rapp: That might be good.

McCoy: That thought came to my mind, Tony, because it shows me – I mean, all those guys care – but it shows me that he really cares and is into the team. That sounds like a dumb thing to say because of course they are, but I just look at it as another stage in his development as becoming a team guy. And he was trying to will that team to win it, it almost felt like to me, at the end trying to make plays.

White: It’s personal growth. I’m not so sure the kid would have been as connected to the team in October, November. He was just trying to stand up and walk. It wasn’t there yet. And I think that shows that he now understands you win and you lose as a team.

When you’re a big part of something and it fails, that’s when it hurts the most. When you’re not so much a big part of something and it fails, you can kind of be detached from that.

But it’s good because he now understands and he was a big part of it, and that’s what leads to a successful offseason. You feel the sense of responsibility – and it’s not about yourself. When you see and feel the sens of responsibility to your teammates to go out every day in the summertime no matter the weather and work, work, work on the things you need to get better at, that’s when very good things start happening for a team.