As we get into the seniors and starters for Ohio State basketball in our Ohio State player preview series, we will hold the newcomer Cedric Russell until later. To hold you over, check out Connor Lemons’ piece on Russell and what his addition means.
For now, we will stay on track and talk about Ohio State sharpshooter Justin Ahrens.
WHAT HE HAS DONE: Ahrens has been an interesting case study during his time at Ohio State, and honestly even before he got to Columbus. First of all, he was a part of the original 2018 recruiting class with Dane Goodwin and Darius Bazley; the latter two both decommmitted after Thad Matta left and the Buckeyes hired Chris Holtmann. Unlike those two, Ahrens ended up recommitting to Ohio State under Holtmann and enrolled in 2018.
At Versailles High School in Versailles, Ohio, Ahrens was a three-star recruit and ranked as the No. 249 recruit in the country and the No. 7 player in the state of Ohio. Basketball runs deep in the Ahrens family, as many people will recognize his brother Kyle, who played at Michigan State under Tom Izzo.
Ahrens committed to Ohio State after choosing between Michigan and Xavier in his second go around.
In his freshman season for the Buckeyes, Ahrens was unable to make a huge impact, appearing in 25 games but only starting in four. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He did break out for a 29-point game in February against Iowa and knocked down six three-pointers as somewhat of a showing of what he is capable of.
During his sophomore season, he actually regressed a little bit. He played in 26 games but started in zero and his average dropped from 3.2 points per game to 2.9. His defense was very spotty at times and forced the coaches to ponder whether his shooting prowess made up for his shortcomings on the defensive end.
He started to figure out some things last season and showed real promise at times, offensively and defensively. He played in 31 games and started in 18 after the injuries to C.J. Walker and Jimmy Sotos. He doubled his average to 5.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. He was able to hit double digits in points six times and knocked down three or more triples in 10 games.
However, he struggled towards the end of the season and went scoreless in two of OSU’s last four games. He also had a three-pointer at the end of the Oral Roberts game to tie, but missed and you have to think that will linger in his head heading into his senior season.
WHAT’S NEXT: Ahrens need to be more aggressive. Point blank. Last season, he was one of the best shooters in the country, hitting almost 43 percent of his three-point attempts, but only attempting just under four three-pointers per game. People like to compare Ahrens shooting to Jon Diebler, and Diebler attempted 7.5 three-pointers per game his junior season and 6.5 his senior season. Diebler even attempted 4.5 three-pointers per game his freshman season. That is the pace Ahrens needs to be on before that discussion is even had.
If Ahrens wants to be on that level and considered as one of the great shooters in Buckeye — and possibly even Big Ten basketball — history, he needs to shoot at least six to seven three-pointers per game this season. This will also be a challenge the coaches have to embrace, getting him open to get shots off. Ahrens also needs to know that he does not need to be wide open to shoot. If there is an angle, let it fly. With a guy of his skill level, there are not many bad shots.
PROJECTED ROLE: Ahrens will have a chance to start, but likely with Cedric Russell coming in and Malaki Branham and Meechie Johnson, he will come off the bench and play similar minutes to last season, maybe five or six more per game. At this point in his career, he needs to let loose this season.
Ahrens seems to be hesitant sometimes to let the ball rip and whether that is him or the coaches, it really doesn’t matter. It just has to stop. He could be one of the best shooters in the country this year and once he realizes that and takes a green light, he has the potential to be special.
If he can consistently knock down shots for the Buckeyes and give them 10-13 points per game, that will add an entire element to this team and what they can achieve.
Next up in the LGHL player preview series: Justice Sueing