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Player preview: Ohio State graduate transfer Jamari Wheeler

Can the Penn State transfer provide the defensive spark the Buckeyes need?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As we get into the meaty part of the Land-Grant Holy Land 2021-22 Ohio State basketball player preview series, we dive into the second transfer that is heading to Columbus for next season, former Penn State guard Jamari Wheeler.

This transfer came as a surprise to a lot of people as the announcement was quick and concise. Wheeler was making the jump from the Nittany Lions to the Buckeyes because he wanted to be on a contending team.

Let’s dive right in and take a look at just how Wheeler is going to factor into the Buckeyes’ roster and how much help he is bringing with him.

WHAT HE HAS DONE: Wheeler spent the first four years of his collegiate basketball career at Penn State playing for Pat Chambers. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard made an immediate impact in Happy Valley, playing in all 39 games during his freshman season and starting in three of them. He averaged two points and two rebounds per game for his freshman campaign. Despite modest offensive output, immediately proved his worth on the defensive end of the ball as he was able to snag 52 steals.

During his sophomore season, Wheeler’s playing time increased and he played in 32 games and started 25 of them. His points did not take a huge jump, but he became largely the starting point guard and was consistent as the leading man with the ball.

His junior season was when Wheeler took a big step forward shooting the ball. He still only averaged 3.8 points per game, but his three-point percentage went from 18% to 39% and his field goal percentage went from 40% to 50%. He became much more efficient in his attempts on offense, even though those attempts were still limited.

Despite the better offensive consistency, Wheeler’s calling card continued to be his defense. For the first time in his career, the then-PSU point guard was named to the Big Ten’s All-Defense Team.

Last season, Wheeler’s scoring improved to 6.8 points per game, and he also turned in 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Wheeler also owns a 2.17 assist to turnover ratio in Big Ten games, so he knows how to take care of the ball, which is also something that the Buckeyes struggled with last season.

Again being named to the conference’s all-defensive team, Wheeler led the B1G in steals per game and total steals last season, further proving the impact that he has on the defensive end of the ball.

WHAT’S NEXT: Wheeler will spend one year in Columbus as a graduate transfer and — as long as Duane Washington and E.J. Liddell return — he will be the starting point guard on a top-5 team in the country. Wheeler has never been a big scorer, but that is not what he is coming to Columbus for.

Wheeler became a Buckeye in order to be the All-Big Ten defender that he is and to provide veteran leadership and — more specifically — a veteran handling the ball for Ohio State who can get the ball into the hands of Washington, Liddell and Justice Sueing.

Ohio State had some issues last year at the point position due to injuries to C.J. Walker and Jimmy Sotos, so Wheeler should be able to come in and immediately be the veteran presence that they need.

The interesting scenario that could take place will be if Liddell and Washington do not return to Columbus. If they don’t, Holtmann might need Wheeler to take up more of an offensive role because they would be losing a lot of their offensive production.

As long as Liddell and Washington come back, which I still believe they both will, they will take the lead on offense and Wheeler can revert to his role of averaging 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while being the defensive lockdown guy that they need.

PROJECTED ROLE: Wheeler should be the starting point guard, taking over a role held by Walker most of last season. With Walker graduating and heading to greener pastures, the role looked like it would be between Meechie Johnson and Sotos, but Wheeler was a three-year starter at Penn State and that role should continue here.

There was no question where Ohio State was lacking last season. They were one of the worst defensive teams in the country that was bailed out by the offense on countless occasions.

Now, with the addition of Wheeler and Joey Brunk, this is a team that can lock some guys down and actually create defense from offense, as that is Wheeler’s specialty. I wouldn’t go as far to say that he is Aaron Craft-like — because Craft was a different species — but there is a reason Wheeler is 11th on Penn State’s all-time steals list, just behind Shep Garner.

Jamari Wheeler is exactly what Ohio State needed to bring in this offseason to sure up the backcourt; check off another box for Chris Holtmann.

Next up the LGHL preview series: Sophomore forward Zed Key