“I think it’ll definitely give me confidence. You can go out there and play knowing your body feels good. I’m really interested to see how everything will pan out.”
One of five, five-star recruits in the 2017 class at Ohio State, expectations were already high coming in for cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. Somehow, he managed to meet them and raise the bar even further for 2018. As a true freshman, he played in nine games for the Buckeyes, accumulating 17 tackles on the season. While the overall numbers aren’t extraordinary, consider that, by the end of the season, he played more snaps than starter Damon Arnette in the Cotton Bowl.
His breakout game came late in the regular season as Ohio State faced Illinois, when Okudah recorded four tackles in the Buckeyes’ blowout win. In the Cotton Bowl, he added four more solo tackles. Widely regarded as one of the most impressive newcomers on the team, players and coaches alike praised the freshman for his on-field contributions, which were impressive for a freshman who was learning a new system while getting up to speed on the college game.
However, what players and coaches saw last season could be just a fraction of what Okudah is capable of. Somehow, the cornerback managed to play two full seasons of high school football--seasons which earned him his five-star recruiting ranking and status as the nation’s top cornerback--as well as his freshman season in Columbus with a labrum injury. While it was a minor enough injury that Okudah was able to play through it, the Buckeyes decided that offseason surgery was the best option for their future star corner. Come September, Taver Johnson, who replaced Kerry Coombs as cornerbacks coach, plans on rotating a healthy Okudah with Arnette and Kendall Sheffield to keep his secondary fresh.
Though Okudah is sitting out spring practice, the high expectations that he has faced in his year in Columbus continue to increase. Now, however, he will be fully healthy as he takes them on.
“With Mitchell’s incredible three-point range (she shoots 40 percent from the field on nine attempts per game), handles and court awareness, she seems too good to pass up here.”
With the WNBA Draft scheduled for this Thursday in New York City, all eyes are on the No. 2 overall pick. There is little doubt that the Las Vegas Aces, formerly the San Antonio Stars, will select South Carolina center/forward A’ja Wilson. Standing at 6-foot-5, Wilson will likely join last season’s No. 1 overall selection in Kelsey Plum, who was selected by the Stars in the 2017 draft. However, the drama will come with the second pick, held by the Indiana Fever. Most analysts figured that former Ohio State point guard Chelsea Mitchell was a lock on the spot--that is, until UConn’s Azura Stevens opted to forego her final season of eligibility with the Huskies and enter the draft. The 6-foot-6 forward transferred to UConn from Duke, playing just one season under Geno Auriemma.
Mitchell is still seen by many as the obvious choice. In four seasons in Columbus, she became one of the most highly-decorated Buckeyes in program history. She was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in each of her four years playing, as well as a three-time Big Ten Player of the Year. She holds 17 program records at Ohio State, eight conference records and four NCAA records, including most career three-point field goals (497). As a senior, she led the country in total points scored with 849, and ended her final season ranked second nationally in career points.
From the Fever’s perspective, Mitchell checks a lot of boxes for a team which has a lot of needs this offseason. Indiana traded away Briann January, considered the team’s best player, just a year after Tamika Catchings, who had been the Fever’s leading scorer, retired. Indiana also holds the No. 8 pick in the draft as a result of the January trade, with analysts projecting a selection of forward Monique Billings from UCLA. At forward, Billings could help to give the Fever the best of both worlds if they also nab Mitchell, but the appeal of a former UConn and Duke star certainly boosts the intrigue of how the first round will play out Thursday.
“As for how he fits into Ohio State’s plans moving forward, Walker will likely step in as the starting point guard in 2019-2020 with two years of eligibility remaining.”
Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann managed to do a lot with a little in his first season at the helm in Columbus. After a good portion of his roster transferred in the transition surrounding Thad Matta’s departure, Holtmann leveraged a corps of veteran talent, along with a few crucial newcomers, to put together an unexpected NCAA Tournament run. However, Holtmann is steadily building his own recruitment machine that will help to “reload” his team in the future, especially with losses like forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate. Though many of the benefits of this pipeline won’t be seen for years to come, the head coach is setting Ohio State basketball up for long-term success.
One of these pieces is Florida State transfer C.J. Walker, who could ultimately fill the true point guard spot which has been lacking in recent seasons at Ohio State. Walker won’t be eligible until the 2019-2020 season, but he will bring a level of veteran experience to a team which will feature many young players. Moreover, Walker was part of an Elite Eight team this season, and brings knowledge of what it is like to have a run in the NCAA Tournament. Walker, who averaged eight points per game as a sophomore with the Seminoles, has shown improvement in his game from year one to year two. His free throw shooting improved markedly, jumping to 73.2 percent from just 65.5 a year before, and bettered his defense on the other side of the court.
The transfer provides a good start to Holtmann’s 2019 recruiting class. Coincidentally, Walker, a former four-star recruit, was initially wooed by Holtmann while the latter was still at Butler. The incoming 2018 group is currently ranked No. 23 nationally, featuring two four-star recruits. By the time Walker sees the court, just two former Matta players--Andre Wesson and Micah Potter--will still be on the roster, and Walker will play a crucial veteran role on an overall young team.