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Ohio State basketball: The lost class of 2015

What happened to the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State basketball hasn't exactly been a powerhouse program over the last five years. As is the case when it comes to college athletics, the measure of a teams success can usually be traced back to recruiting. While a highly regarded recruiting class doesn't necessarily promise results on the court, it certainly increases the chances of having a productive year.

The Buckeyes have had a tough time in recent years recruiting with the big boys, failing to haul in a top 10 class in each of the previous five cycles. Chris Holtmann’s latest group was certainly a step in the right direction, bringing in three top-50 guys to put together a class that ranked No. 14 nationally. Ohio State seems to be headed down the right path back to relevance, but as previously mentioned, recruiting isn’t always the answer.

This is no better exemplified than by the class of 2015. The most recent Buckeye class to rank in the top 10, Thad Matta was able to secure the No. 5 class in the country in one of his final years at the helm of Ohio State basketball. The group consisted of five players: all of them four-star recruits, with four of the five ranking in the top 100. Things were looking bright in Columbus heading into the season with seven-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a roster loaded with talent — at least on paper.

Instead, the Buckeyes would finish that 2015-16 season with a 21-14 record, never even so much as sniffing the AP Top 25 and missing the tourney for the first time since the 2007-08 season. By the following season, all but one of those 2015 recruits were off the team, and by 2017 all five of them were no longer at Ohio State.

Just what happened to one of the highest-rated recruiting classes at Ohio State in the last decade? Where are those five players now? These are their stories. *DUN DUN*

Jaquan Lyle

We begin our investigation with the Buckeyes’ top-rated player in that 2015 class: JaQuan Lyle. The guard started 54 games for Ohio State in his two seasons in Columbus, averaging a little over 11 points and four assists per game. Lyle looked like he had all the tools to become a fine player for the Bucks, but always just seemed to lack confidence on the offensive end and was reluctant to shoot at times. Off the court, however, is where most of his issues stemmed.

Even before ever touching a basketball at OSU, Lyle had been a part of the Rick Pitino scandal at Louisville, confirming to an NCAA investigator the reports of paid escorts during his recruiting visit with the Cardinals in 2013. Lyle had originally committed to Louisville before switching his commitment to Oregon, where he would be removed from the roster shortly before the start of fall semester. He wound up spending a season at IMG Academy before ending up at Ohio State.

On May 13, 2017, Lyle was arrested near his home in Indiana. Police reports say Lyle punched the door of a bar he was asked to leave and also punched a police car in front of an officer. He was charged with public intoxication, criminal mischief to a vehicle and disorderly conduct, and was subsequently released on bond. It was later announced through an OSU spokesperson that Lyle was no longer a member of the Buckeyes, having quit the team on April 11 of that year.

Later that summer, Lyle transferred to New Mexico, where he would have to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. He would wind up missing the entire next season with a ruptured achilles, and made his Lobos debut in Nov. 2019. Lyle has actually been one of New Mexico’s best players this season, averaging over 17 points per game to lead the team, but his off the court issues have once again followed him.

Lyle was suspended by the Lobos last week after a house party that he threw ended up being the site of a shooting. Shots were fired outside the Airbnb rented by Lyle that injured two people, with both expected to make a full recovery. Lyle would apologize on Twitter for his actions, but it is just another entry in the wild saga that is the career of JaQuan Lyle.

Daniel Giddens

Daniel Giddens was the next highest-rated recruit behind Lyle in the 2015 class, coming out of high school as the No. 51 player in the country and No. 3 player out of Georgia. Giddens played an important role as a defense-first presence in the paint off the bench for Ohio State. In his freshman season, the center played in 33 games while starting in seven of them, averaging 3.8 points with 3.6 boards and 1.5 blocks per game.

On March 28, 2016, a little over a week after the team’s final game in the NIT that year, Gidden requested his release from Ohio State. The 6-foot-10 big man was looking to go somewhere closer to his hometown, and would wind up transferring to Alabama, whose campus was just a three hour drive away from his family in Georgia.

Giddens would spend two seasons with the Crimson Tide, starting in just 18 of his 48 games played with the program while averaging only 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in an extremely limited role that saw him play under 12 minutes per contest. Still maintaining eligibility after his graduation from Alabama, Giddens elected to grad transfer to Vermont.

The center has started all 22 games for the Catamounts this season, averaging just under four points and four rebounds per game. Vermont is off to an excellent start to the campaign, sitting at first place in the America East Conference at 17-6. Despite starting for the Catamounts, Giddens is only averaging about 15 minutes per game this season.

Austin Grandstaff

That brings us to Austin Grandstaff, the third player in the 2015 class and one of three highly touted guards in the cycle for the Buckeyes. Out of all the stories of former Ohio State players in this recruiting class, Grandstaff’s may be the most intriguing.

Grandstaff played in 10 games as a freshman at OSU, averaging under 12 minutes per game and scoring just over four points per contest. He would not even wind up finishing the season before deciding to transfer to Oklahoma. Grandstaff would never even suit up for the Sooners, and would transfer to DePaul where he spent two seasons, once of which being a redshirt year. He played 20 games for the Blue Demons in the 2017-18 season, playing less than eight minutes per game and making little to no contributions to the team.

As of the start of this season, Grandstaff was out of DI basketball entirely, deciding instead to focus on his career as a musician. No longer listed on DePaul’s roster, he released his debut album under the stage name Ag303 titled “Life Love Death” in Oct. 2019. Grandstaff told Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch, “It’s almost like going for 40 or 50 points in a game. I get the same feeling from making a song or an album that I’m proud of.”

Grandstaff struggled to get acclimated to college life after becoming a father at the age of 18 when his son Knox was born on June 11, 2015. He explained he had a tough time coping with the pressures of both having a child back home and performing at a big program as a high level recruit. He also admitted that a lack of discipline compiled his issues and made everything even harder.

The guard is still involved in basketball in some capacity, currently playing for DII Texas A&M Commerce. Grandstaff has played in 20 games and started 10 for the Lions this season, averaging 9.1 points per game.

A.J. Harris

AJ Harris was the third and final guard in Ohio State’s 2015 class. Hailing from nearby Dayton, Ohio, it made sense for Harris to take his talents to Columbus as the No. 4 player in the state. He played in 35 games as a freshman in a reserve role, playing over 13 minutes per game while averaging 2.8 points and 1.7 assists per game. Harris did not shoot well at all in his first season on campus, hitting at a paltry 32.3 percent clip before electing to transfer at the end of the year.

Harris wound up at New Mexico State, where he was forced to sit out his first season due to NCAA transfer rules. After regaining eligibility in the 2017-18 season, Harris would start in 64 of 66 games in his first two seasons with the Aggies, averaging a little over nine points and three assists per game. His shooting percentage improved drastically in his increased role, hitting at around 41 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point range.

Harris’ career hit a bit of a roadblock this season, suffering an ankle injury on Jan. 4 against Cal Baptist that has sidelined him indefinitely for the remainder of the year. The guard came up hobbling on the defensive end and would be forced to leave the game with what head coach Chris Jans later called a stress fracture. Harris had already missed the first 13 games of the season with a broken finger before returning Dec. 22, and the team had gone 3-0 with him in the lineup.

Mickey Mitchell

The fifth and final member of this unique and interesting recruiting class is forward Mickey Mitchell. The four-star big man out of Texas got off to rocky start with Ohio State, missing the first 11 games of his freshman season with an undisclosed eligibility issue. Once eligible, he made minor contributions to the team, starting seven games and playing 23 total while averaging two points and under three rebounds per game. He would announce his decision to transfer in March, initially signing with UC Santa Barbara but never enrolling.

Instead, he would wind up at Arizona State, sitting out the 2016-17 season for the transfer and joining the team the following year. The Sun Devils have not provided much of an increased role for Mitchell, who has started in 12 of his 43 games at ASU while averaging around 17 minutes per game. The forward is averaging 3.8 points per game and four rebounds for the Sun Devils over his three seasons with the program, including the current campaign.

Mitchell’s career has not been without its own set of complications as well. The forward played in just six games in his junior season after experiencing lingering pain in his back. He would try to work through the issue with therapy and rehabilitation, but nothing seemed to work. This past July, he finally elected to have a discectomy to remove a herniated disc in his back that was pressing on a nerve in his spinal cord. He wound up gaining 45 pound as a result of his inactivity following the surgery, and it was a long road back to being game ready.

Mitchell just recently returned to the court on Jan. 9, receiving a standing ovation from the home crowd in recognizing everything the forward had gone through to get back to playing basketball for ASU.