Lost admist the celebration of another successful first round of the NFL Draft for Ohio State’s football program was a bombshell that showed exactly where Ohio State basketball is at the moment.
Ohio State’s top 2018 commitment, Darius Bazley, recently, and unexpectedly, decommitted from Ohio State. In it of itself, that’s really bad news, since Bazley is the top recruit in Ohio for 2018, and the centerpiece of what will be a very important recruiting class for the program. The Buckeyes will soon graduate most of their wings, and they need to reload on scoring, and soon.
But then Bazley gave an interview with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch explaining his decision. And, well, there’s just no way to sugarcoat it.
First, here’s Bazley on his NBA goals, and whether he thinks Ohio State can help him reach them:
“I was excited when I first got the offer...Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”
And Bazley on Ohio State’s current talent level:
“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year...they didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”
Okay, let’s try to unpack this real quick. Is Bazley right?
Well, that’s debatable. Earlier in Matta’s career, Ohio State was excellent and sending players to the NBA, and even with a struggling team, D'Angelo Russell did recently get to the NBA as the second overall pick, something Ohio State should get credit for (nobody predicted Russell would be that good, that fast, during his recruitment). This draft should make it clear that you can still get drafted even if your team is struggling, and there aren’t many players who have come through OSU’s program recently that aren’t on NBA rosters that you could argue probably should have been.
And hey, next year, Ohio State adds four-star Kaleb Wesson and four-star Derek Funderburk (who redshirted last season). Another one of Ohio State’s 2018 recruits, high three-star guard Justin Ahrens, is a close friend of Bazley.
But you know what? Quibbling over whether Bazley’s assessment is correct misses the point. When it comes to recruiting, perception is reality.
And the perception of Ohio State’s program is that their recruiting has declined, and that they aren’t very good. And hey, Ohio State’s recruiting has declined, and they lost to Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and missed the dang NIT last season.
The only way Ohio State is going to turn this ship around and start to contend for Big Ten titles again is by improving the baseline talent level of their program. That comes from recruiting, and if your program does not have a good reputation among prospects, you risk running into a death spiral.
Remember, Bazley is not some fickle, national recruit. He was committed to the Buckeyes for over a year. He’s friends with another recruit. And he’s an Ohio kid. These remarks, even if expressed not as diplomatically as a fan might prefer, hurt more coming from him, than say, a recruit from Atlanta.
Ohio State can take a big step towards rebuilding their reputation with a strong showing this coming season. But if Bazley’s feelings are shared by some of the other important uncommitted prospects in Ohio, players like Dwayne Cohill or Jerome Hunter, Ohio State’s rebuilding job will be much, much harder than we thought.