To say this has been a tumultuous offseason for Ohio State basketball would be an understatement. Three members of Ohio State’s highly regarded class of 2015 transferred (Mickey Mitchell, A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens) following Austin Grandstaff’s departure in season after a year that saw the team struggle, ending a mostly forgettable season in the NIT.
After the talent exodus, many worried about the state of the program. Thad Matta isn’t. In fact, in some exceptionally pointed commentary, he views these as additions by subtractions.
In a video taken by ThisWeek Sports, Matta made it perfectly clear exactly how he felt about the players leaving his program:
OSU hoops coach Thad Matta talks about his team during the Joe Mortellaro Golf Classic on July 11 at Scioto Reserve. pic.twitter.com/AyPgFRchfy— ThisWeek Sports (@ThisWeekSports) July 14, 2016
I like the guys we've got in here. We're going through a transition where we lost three guys. After the Florida game this year, I told our guys two things after the game.
Number one, I'm tired of the B.S. I'm going back to coaching basketball. I'm going back to running this program the way we did when we got here.
The second thing is, some of you are going to transfer. You don't know it yet, but whatever you do—don't come see me. Just shoot me a text, because I'm tired of looking at you.
And we got rid of some guys we needed to get rid of. We got rid of problems, but we kept solutions...
Matta then goes on to specifically point out that three of four players joining the program this season are from Ohio.
So this is pretty unusual. I personally can’t remember an Ohio State coach being so blunt as to say “we got rid of some guys we needed to get rid of”, especially when none of the departing players got in any kind of real trouble. It was clear from watching the team play that the on-court chemistry was not where it should have been, although the fact that the team was exceptionally young was undoubtedly a factor. But Matta’s comments seem to make it clear there were other things going on behind the scenes.
It’s worth noting that while all four players were highly regarded recruits, none really landed in an especially prestigious spot. Grandstaff, a four-star sharpshooter from Texas, left the team after just a few games, transferred to Oklahoma, but then transferred again ending up at DePaul. Giddens transferred to Alabama. Mitchell ended up at UC Santa Barbra, and Harris transferred to New Mexico State, way out in the farthest outpost of D1 college basketball, the WAC.
It probably isn’t fair to just blame the players though. After all, as Bill Landis reminds us, Thad Matta and the Ohio State coaching staff recruited all of these dudes. Transfers in college basketball are not especially uncommon, but if you aren’t Kentucky or Duke, you typically can’t afford to lose nearly an entire recruiting class to transfers and not suffer on the court. The only remaining player on the 2015 class, JaQuan Lyle, wasn’t recruited to be a four year player, and could leave after this season if he does well. That’s a missed opportunity for Ohio State.
It’s worse because these transfers happened late enough in the 2016 recruiting cycle that Ohio State couldn’t really chase many replacement prospects especially hard. 2016 was a good year for Ohio high school basketball, including at positions the Buckeyes need, and Ohio State passed on the chance to heavily recruit them because they had Harris, Mitchell, etc on the roster.
The Buckeyes finished 2016 with the 8th ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten (behind Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State), and if players like Seth Towns, Nick Ward, or Ibi Watson — players Ohio State might have been able to get had they made them recruiting priorities — go on to have great college careers, it will make the mistakes of the 2015 class even worse.
Ohio State returns the bulk of their production from last season, and if the team culture really does make a significant jump, the team could be substantially more competitive in the Big Ten and should be in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. Maybe some bad attitudes in the locker room were keeping the Buckeyes from reaching their full potential. Maybe there was some very bad evaluation going on. Maybe it’s fixed now. Maybe it isn’t.
One thing is clear though: Thad Matta doesn’t seem too broken up about it.