The world’s sports’ focus in the past month has been on the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Regardless of the non-sports opinions and news lacing the games, athletes from across the globe joined together to compete on all forms of ice and snow. These athletes spend their entire lives training and competing for a chance at a gold medal.
Ohio State women’s basketball forward Tanaya Beacham grew up figure skating on the ice at Mill Creek MetroPark in Youngstown, Ohio, but her motivation wasn’t a medal.
“They had a league you could skate in and it had free donuts, and that was the best part,” said Beacham. “I did it for the donuts.”
Luckily for the Buckeyes, at the age of five, Beacham traded in the blades for a basketball. After Beacham’s mom moved her from the rink to the court, she never looked back.
Growing Up in Ohio Basketball
Beacham began her high school career at Youngstown Ursaline before swapping Northeast Ohio for Northwest Ohio, playing her final two seasons at Toledo Rogers. Between Division III Ursaline and Division II Rogers, Beacham’s play earned her city, conference and district accolades, alongside an early trip to the place she’d eventually call home — Columbus’ Schottenstein Center. Beacham led Rogers to the 2015 DII championship game, falling to Kettering Archbishop Alter.
Although the championship didn’t go Beacham’s way, a No. 20 ranking on ESPN’s best forwards in the nation gave her a chance to continue her basketball journey. It started with the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference.
It took a few seasons for Beacham to find her place on the roster, averaging seven points and 11.3 minutes per game across her sophomore and junior years respectively.
However, Beacham’s standing on the team grew. The Rockets named Beacham a team captain for her senior season and the stats followed. She averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting .583 from the field, but she wasn’t satisfied.
“I was at Toledo for four years, so it was like ‘I want to see something new,’ and I also wanted to go to a different conference where it was more competition,” Beacham said.
Enter Ohio State and the Big Ten. On July 28, 2020, head coach Kevin McGuff announced Beacham would transfer to play with the Buckeyes.
Joining the Buckeyes
Beacham’s arrival came at a time when the program was on the rise. Just four months earlier, Ohio State had played in the B1G Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game. OSU lost 82-65 to conference champions Maryland, who had another Ohio high school standout in now-Buckeye Taylor Mikesell.
Four days later, the NCAA announced the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, as COVID-19 hit the United States, and it was the last time Ohio State would play postseason basketball for two years.
The program’s rise ended abruptly on Dec. 22, 2020 when self-imposed sanctions for the Buckeyes went public. Due to recruiting violations within the coaching staff, Ohio State missed all playoff basketball in the 2020-21 season. That started a domino effect at the forward position. On April 12, 2021, starting forward Dorka Juhasz transferred to UCONN and 11 days later, fellow starter Aaliyah Patty left for to Texas A&M.
That Buckeye’s loss could have deterred Beacham. After all, it was Beacham’s fifth season playing college basketball, and it ended playing for the top college team in her home state. However, the losses from COVID-19 and former assistant coach’s improprieties turned into a win for Beacham, who decided in May 2021 to use the extra year of eligibility allowed due to the coronavirus; Beacham’s career wasn’t close to done.
“I still wanted to grow more as a person on and off the court. I think the extra year was perfect for me,” said Beacham. “I stepped into a role I’d never played before. I got to know everybody, and I just worked hard, so I think it was kind of easy for everybody to say, ‘Oh she said work hard, so let’s work hard.’”
The Buckeyes 2021-22 Revival
Work hard is exactly what the Buckeyes have done in 2021-22. With two games remaining in the regular season, the Scarlet and Gray have a chance to win the B1G conference title. Their current second place positioning is the highest McGuff’s Ohio State side has had since the 28-7 Buckeyes of 2017-18 won Ohio State’s sixth women’s basketball conference title.
It’s the team chemistry fostered by Beacham and her fellow Buckeyes that have Ohio State on the doorstep.
“This is the closest team I’ve ever been on and I’ve been on a lot of teams, I’ve been in college for six years,” said Beacham. “The chemistry is just so strong for each other; we just want to fight for each other. We don’t want this season to end, even when it has to end.”
On the court, that fight is evident. When Beacham comes into the game, the word to describe her is “energy.” Whether it’s grabbing a rebound, getting a timely block, or going in for a layup, Beacham brings a spark to the team when they need it most. When McGuff calls Beacham’s number, it’s followed by calls to bring the energy, be tough, and keep the team moving.
Beacham hasn’t started a single game in 2021-22, but has played in all but one of the Buckeye’s games. With Patty and Juhasz’s transfers, Beacham and fellow forward Rebeka Mikulasikova have split court time. When junior start Mikulasikova sits for a rest, Beacham enters the game and doesn’t let the opponent get comfortable. It’s the same off of the court as well
A Growing Leader
A difference in Beacham as an all-around player is her leadership. At Toledo, Beacham didn’t find her stride until her senior season and then joined an established Buckeyes team. The 2021-22 season is the first time Beacham’s found her voice, and that strong team chemistry flows through the conversations that fans, and the media don’t get to see.
“I’m on everybody, I’m bringing energy, I’m telling people what they did right, what they did wrong” said Beacham about conversations on the game and practice courts. “It’s most definitely a different role than I’ve played in previous years, but I love the role and it feels more natural for me.”
That leadership is noticeable on the court. Beacham celebrates her and her teammates victories. On breaks in play, and timeouts, Beacham’s talking to her teammates and adjusting. Beacham is far from a subdued bench player. Coach McGuff isn’t short of words on the importance Beacham’s played this season.
“She’s one of our toughest kids. Our kids really rally around her energy and how hard she plays,” said McGuff after Beacham was honored on Sunday’s “Senior Day” victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. “I think that really speaks to her character. She’s a great kid and really improved within our program and made a big impact for us.”
The Last Games in Columbus
In that Sunday victory, Beacham stepped up to the moment too, having one of her more complete games of the season. In 23 minutes off the bench, Beacham almost had a double-double, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring 10 points. The most impressive coming off a spin move in the paint, that ended with a smooth layup and the crowd at Value City Arena cheering on the graduate senior.
Thursday is the last game that Beacham will play at the Schottenstein Center. Due to COVID-19 protocal in the Penn State Nittany Lion’s team, a Jan. 2 matchup was moved past “Senior Day.” While Beacham already had the fanfare of walking onto the court with her family on “Senior Day,” Thursday is going to be difficult.
“I think this game is really going to hit me,” said Beacham. “Just because I know it’s the last time I get to play here. I’ve enjoyed every experience playing here. The fans, I hear them all the time cheering my name, they’re so supportive of me and I love it and I’m so grateful for it. It’s going to be a bittersweet moment like ‘this is the last one.’”
Beacham stresses one thing about the Penn State game. Although it is her last one in Scarlet and Gray, on campus, it’s not the last game with importance this season.
A win against Penn State, and another against Michigan State on Sunday, along with a slip up by the Michigan Wolverines in any one of their last two games, gives the Buckeyes the title. That’s not to mention the upcoming B1G Women’s Basketball Tournament and an eventual spot in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Past this season, Beacham isn’t close to done with the sport. Beacham’s goal is to play until she can’t play anymore. Once that’s done, Beacham wants to learn the game from a different perspective — a coach’s perspective.
Whether it’s playing or coaching, expect energy from Beacham as this Buckeyes season comes to an end. Once the last game has been played, maybe there will be donuts.