As we move into the heart of the summer, the Land-Grant Holy Land 2021-2022 Ohio State basketball player preview series moves into the heart of the roster. We have knocked out the transfers and the young guys for the most part and now it is time to dive into a guy who everyone will look to make great strides next season: Zed Key.
WHAT HE HAS DONE: Key was a pleasant surprise early on for the Buckeyes last season, coming off the bench and being the big man presence that they needed, especially when injuries or foul trouble took the veteran bigs off the floor. He struggled with consistency throughout the season, but due to him being a freshman and the level of competition for big men in the conference being so high, it can be forgiven.
Key was a very solid high school prospect, but wasn’t as highly recruited as he could have been. One reason for that could have been his high school teammate at Long Island Lutheran in Glen Head, NY and current Illinois Fighting Illini, Andre Curbelo. Curbelo was a highly touted recruit and likely took some starring opportunities away from Key.
Nevertheless, Key was still a high three-star prospect and the 155th ranked player in the nation, the 24th center, and the fourth ranked player in New York. He showed signs of stardom, recording 37 points and 16 rebounds in a game his senior season. During that season, he averaged a solid 18 points and nine rebounds per game. Curbelo was a top 50 recruit in the country.
In his first season as a Buckeye, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound center averaged 5.2 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game, and shot 62% from the field on the year. He was second on the team in blocks with 22 and recorded his first double-double against Cleveland State.
Once Big Ten play started, Key was forced into some uncomfortable situations, taking on some of the top big men in the country in just his first collegiate go around. For the most part, he held his own, but there were times that he showed some inconsistencies, particularly on the defensive end.
Something I liked to see was when Key made one of those mistakes, Chris Holtmann would immediately pull him out and start showing him things on the sideline. Instead of punishing him, he would coach him up and then send him back in and see if he picked up what he was just shown. On most occasions, you could see the visible improvement and that Key was making the adjustments that he’d just gone over with Holtmann.
WHAT’S NEXT: How Key will fit into the rotation this season is still a bit up in the air. With Kyle Young returning and the addition of Indiana transfer Joey Brunk, there are some experienced bodies in the front court. But, none are exactly front-line B1G centers. Obviously, as is everyone on the team, Key’s exact role will be determined when we learn that fate of E.J. Liddell and whether or not he returns or heads to the NBA.
If Liddell returns, that will push Key’s role back a bit, but he will undoubtedly still have a large role on both ends of the basketball.
If Liddell does end up heading to the professional realm, the Buckeyes will need Key to step up in a big way and will need to be more of an offensive force since the Buckeyes would be losing a lot of their offense in Liddell. Some analysts are projecting Key to be the Buckeyes’ starting center in this scenario, and potentially even if Liddell returns.
PROJECTED ROLE: Key will absolutely be a guy that the Buckeyes look to take a giant step forward this season. With a full offseason — and participating in the U-19 Team USA national camp — and learning from a veteran like Brunk, I think that Key will be a guy who plays 20+ minutes off of the bench a game. He could be a real X factor down low for them, whether Liddell comes back or not.
However, with him being a second year player now, those inconsistencies will have to become less frequent, especially on a team that is so deep and can afford to try out other people. More than likely, he will be just fine and be a key contributor on this Buckeyes team, E.J. Liddell or no E.J. Liddell. For that decision, we will know at the latest a week from today.
Zed Key and his finger guns are already a fan favorite for Buckeye fans because of his personality, but his future should make them pretty excited too.
Next up in the LGHL player preview series: Seth Towns