Buckeye basketball season is upon us and you have until next Wednesday, Nov. 6, to get to know the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s newest faces before they tip off against the Cincinnati Bearcats at home. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
After a busy and successful venture on the recruiting trail, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and his staff pulled together a recruiting class ranked No. 14 nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten. While you’ll certainly learn their names soon (a few are projected to start right away) there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get a head start. So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about each of the four freshmen:
Ibrahima Diallo joins @alonzo_gaffney, @EasyE2432 and @DJCarton in our 2019 recruiting class. The class as a whole is ranked among the Top 10 classes nationally and as the No. 1 class in the @BigTen❗️#GoBucks #Team121 pic.twitter.com/bHfPTOfgwd— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) April 19, 2019
D.J. Carton— Point guard
Jersey number: 3
“D.J. is a talented and gifted player and a great addition to our university and basketball program,” Holtmann said when Carton officially signed. “He possesses athleticism, tremendous feel for the game and high-level competitiveness. We appreciate the edge he plays with.”
Carton—the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Holtmann and the most talented guard to land at Ohio State since D’angelo Russell—was a five-star recruit from Bettendorf High School in Iowa, where he earned the state’s 2019 Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year titles. While he later dropped to four stars, he was picked up by Ohio State as a No. 34 overall recruit and the fourth best point guard in the nation according to 247Sports.com composite rankings.
During his senior season at Bettendorf, Carton averaged 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three and 70.4 percent from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs finished with a 21-2 record and the No. 1 ranking in the Super 10 before their season was cut one game short of the state championship with a loss to Dubuque Senior High School.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound point guard finished his high school career with a school-best 1,198 career points.
During the Big Ten’s annual preseason basketball media day earlier this month, Holtmann said recruiting Carton was an answer to one of Ohio State’s biggest problems last year— scoring.
“He’s a better shooter than I think people probably have given him credit for,’’ Holtmann said, “but he’s so explosive. Getting from one point to the next, he’s so explosive so people are naturally going to try to play underneath him and make him make shots.’’
Since former guard C.J. Jackson graduated, Carton is in a good position to start this season. However, he is still a freshman, and Florida State transfer C.J. Walker is also fighting for a starting spot at guard after sitting out last year.
“D.J.’s done a good job in a lot of areas,” Holtmann said. “I think he’s learning right now what you can and can’t do at this level. D.J. has made real solid strides. I’ve been proud of him with that on the floor, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
Ibrahima Diallo — Center
Jersey number: 15
After months of careful consideration I have decided to commit to Ohio State University @OhioStateHoops I want to thank all the coaches who have recruited me during the recruitment process. My Family and I are excited about the next chapter in my life. ️ pic.twitter.com/IWmZhpWHsi— ibrahimadiallo (@ibrahimaa24) April 14, 2019
In 2016, Diallo left his parents and six siblings in Senegal to work toward his basketball career in Bradenton, Florida, where he attended high school at Victory Rock Prep.
“First of all, I love the game,” Diallo told The Dispatch when asked why he moved to the United States. “My parents let me go to pursue my dreams, and basketball is my dream. You can do it. You’ve just got to be tough.”
The fellas are getting a few weeks back home to give all their great Mom’s a big hug. Ibrahima decided to surprise his family in Senegal. It’s been over 3 yrs since he’s seen his family. Special moment! pic.twitter.com/rhdPOPHens— Chris Holtmann (@ChrisHoltmann) July 31, 2019
Florida wasn’t the place to pursue those dreams, however, and just before his senior season, he transferred to a “quieter” Napa Valley, California to attend Prolific Prep where he said he could focus on his game more easily than in Bradenton.
“I think it was like where I just came from,” he explained. “Basketball is the same, so we were just working on different types of things but the same sport. I just fit right in.”
Through the 10 games he played at Prolific Prep, he averaged 11 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game, earning him a 2019 three-star ranking.
At the Flyin’ to the Hoop tournament in Dayton, OH, with Ohio State coaches in attendance, Diallo put up 20 points and 14 rebounds in a win against Springfield. The next day, he put up 10 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes against five-star recruits Rocket Watts and LaMelo Ball of Geneva Spire Academy. Buckeye coaches were sold.
#FTTH2019— SUVtv (@SUVtv) January 20, 2019
Ibrahima Diallo finished with 20pts, 14reb, 2blk for @ProlificPrep in their @FlyinToTheHoop win last night@ibrahimaa24 @nv_sports_live @coachpdoherty @coachbmcknight #SUVtv #ABACE pic.twitter.com/JbAWeJjinu
He arrived at Ohio State as the No. 367 overall prospect and the No. 64 center in the class of 2019.
Standing at seven feet tall and weighing 226 pounds, Diallo will serve as a much-needed rim protector for Ohio State and will make a huge impact defensively.
Prolific Prep head coach Billy McKnight explained to The Dispatch why he believes Diallo’s talents will easily transfer to the collegiate level.
“When you have a 7 to 8-and-a-half wingspan, if you just rebound, block shots and then catch and finish dunks, that’s all you’ve got to do. Set good picks, catch and finish dunks, get on the offensive glass and get some offensive rebound putbacks, but that’s really all you’ve got to do if you can be that much of a game-changer on the defensive side where you’re distracting or blocking shots and rebounding.
“He actually throws really nice outlet passes and then it’s just offensively, anything you get out of him is a bonus and that’s the way it should be. And that’s the way the whole game is going anyway at this point. It’s such a guard-oriented game, so as long as he embraces that role he can be really good.”
Diallo will likely see the least amount of playing time compared to the other freshmen, considering Kaleb Wesson is returning for his junior season as the Buckeyes’ starting center, and Diallo still has some improvements to make, especially on offense. It’s not far fetched to assume the freshman center will redshirt this season.
“What impact he’s going to have right now, it remains to be seen,” Holtmann said. “I think we took him understanding that a lot of work was going to have to take place between getting him here and then him being able to impact games at a high level. Do I expect that we’re going to see what he’s capable of early in the season? Sure, we’re going to have to with a lot of guys.”
E.J. Liddell— Forward
Jersey number: 32
Liddell attended Belleville West High School in Illinois, where he left quite a few marks in the school’s record book. He left West as the all-time leader in points (2,508), rebounds (1,004) and blocks (500). He was named Illinois Mr. Basketball twice after helping lead the Maroons to two state championships as a junior and a senior.
After averaging 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game, and shooting 62.3 percent from the field as a senior, he was invited to the Ball is Life All-American Game and the Iverson Classic.
He signed with Ohio State as a four-star prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, the No. 1 recruit in Illinois, the No. 44 overall prospect and the No. 8 power forward in the country.
“He’s a matchup nightmare,” Joe Muniz, Liddell’s coach at Belleville West High School told cleveland.com. “Teams that switch on him put a bigger guy on him, he can take them outside, they put a smaller guy on him and he takes them inside. He’s got a toughness about him that is second to none. I’ve always said this about him, the bigger the stage the better he plays. And there’s no stage too big for him.”
Liddell will most likely be the Buckeyes’ starting power forward this season. His size (6-foot-7, 220 pounds), basketball IQ, physicality, and confidence on the court will make him a significant scorer for the Buckeyes and a defender’s worst nightmare.
“He’s learning a lot,” junior guard C.J. Walker said. “It’s totally different. He really wasn’t that exposed to AAU like we were, so for him to be coached and be able to adapt is really hard to do but he’s doing it well. He can block shots. He can rebound. He’s extremely athletic and fast getting up and down the floor and that helps what we do in our offense and our transition.”
Alonzo Gaffney— Forward
Jersey number: 0
Gaffney finished his junior year at Garfield Heights High School, about 10 miles southeast of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, with an average of 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 blockes per game, earning himself first team All-Ohio honors, a five-star rating, and was viewed as the No. 1 prospect in Ohio. Even still, he decided Garfield Heights wasn’t preparing him for his college career, so he transferred to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire—a basketball powerhouse where he would have better competition and play with college rules.
As a senior at Brewster Academy, Gaffney averaged 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
“Zo’s a super kid,” Brewster Academy coach Jason Smith told The Dispatch. “He has tremendous upside and potential. We utilized him basically as a hybrid forward. Really, really skilled for his size. Shot the ball extremely well in the fall. Great length. High, high level athlete.”
While a lot of schools recruited Gaffney, the 6-foot-9, 198-pound forward couldn’t pass up his dream school. With Gaffney’s commitment, the Buckeyes landed the Ohio’s No. 1 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 18-ranked player in the nation, according to 247Sports.com.
“We are very excited about Alonzo,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said when Gaffney signed. “He is someone we targeted as soon as we were hired. He has come from great programs in Ohio as well as his current program, Brewster Academy. He was the first player to commit to us for the 2019 class last spring.
The first thing many notice about Gaffney is his length, more specifically, his wingspan, which makes shot blocking a breeze for the freshman. His offense, however, is where Gaffney turns heads. If he shoots, he scores, and his athleticism and ball handling get him to to the hoop more often than not.
His size and style of play has often been compared to former Buckeye wing Keita Bates-Diop. In fact, Holtmann and his staff’s development of Diop is what sold Gaffney on Ohio State in the first place.
It’s still iffy as to whether or not Gaffney will start right away, considering he needs to bulk up and mature a bit to be able to rebound and defend at a college level. Regardless, there’s no doubt that he will be just as—if not more— popular than Diop by the end of this year or next.
“Gaffney’s got great potential,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s what he has probably heard about himself for the last three or four years. He will have to find a level of consistency in performance and effort. He is so gifted. It’s just as we’ve seen in his high school career, he’s got to find a level of consistency in performance.”
WAIT. Don’t go anywhere. While that concludes the four new freshmen, there’s one more player who will be gracing our presence at the Schott this year for the first time.
CJ Walker— Point Guard
Jersey number: 13
Walker transferred to Ohio State from Florida State in April of 2018. Because he is an undergraduate, he had to sit out during the 2018-19 season before he could play a game for the Buckeyes. Well, that season has come and gone, and while it was difficult for the redshirt junior, his time as a starting Ohio State point guard has finally come.
Walker was a four-star recruit out of Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis during the 2016 recruiting cycle and was the 2016 Indianapolis Player of the Year. He was the overall 113th rated prospect and the 24th best point guard in the country, according to 247Sports.com.
As a sophomore at Florida State in the 2017-18 season, Walker started in 34 of 35 games, and averaged 8.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. His playing time as a Seminole slowly decreased toward the end of the season, however, and the sophomore announced he was entering the transfer portal after a loss to Michigan in the Elite Eight.
With the addition of Carton at point guard, Holtmann is tasked with figuring out the best way to use both guards to his advantage—which is the opposite of a problem.
“He’s tough. He’s competitive,” Holtmann said. “He’s got natural intangible leadership ability, I believe. He’s certainly a point guard, but he’s also a guy where you can play kind of two point guards together, as well. He’s going to be a really solid addition.”
Third-year head coach Chris Holtmann is returning three starters from his 2018-19 team — senior wing Andre Wesson, junior center Kaleb Wesson and sophomore guard Luther Muhammad. Holtmann and his returning trio are coming off a 20-15 season and a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Houston.
With this season’s highly ranked freshman class, along with Walker eligible to play, go ahead and pencil in “Ohio State” all the way to Final 4 on your brackets.