COLUMBUS, OHIO - Thad Matta says he's the toughest player he's ever had. That includes his time at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State.
Yet there was Aaron Craft, standing on the sidelines, sitting out practice on Monday after taking an elbow from Deshaun Thomas the previous day.
I'm just giving Craft some you-know-what because it was just ironic Craft missed the one Buckeyes practice I'll be at this preseason.
And even though walk-on point guard Alex Rogers was terrific, this is a completely different team without Craft.
I'll have more on him later this week, but there's just nothing that the unassuming sophomore point guard doesn't do on the court. He leads, makes his teammates better, can lock guys up and has also (reportedly) improved his perimeter shot.
Anyway, here are my thoughts and observations following Ohio State's practice:
- I've already chronicled Sullinger's new look and how it'll benefit him this season.
|Season tips Nov. 7|
- Matta wants - and needs - William Buford to be more aggressive and get to the line with more frequency. He's the lone upperclassman who has played on this team and needs to become more assertive than he's been in the past.
- The most surprising performance came from Lenzelle Smith, a seldom-used guard a year ago who may just be the frontrunner to earn the fifth and final spot to start this season. The other four will almost certainly go to Sullinger, Buford, Craft and Thomas. However, Smith has shot it well, he's strong, athletic, plays with a motor and can defend. "I need him to be out Ronald Nored," Matta said. That's a high expectation, but Smith can be a quality glue guy who brings multiple assets to the table this year.
- Don't be shocked if Matta throws Craft and freshman point guard Shannon Scott out there together at times. They are both small floor leaders, but both shoot it well enough - and Craft is about as good of a defender as you'll find, so the Buckeyes could probably get away with it on the defensive end.
- Matta called freshman forward Sam Thompson the "most athletic player I've ever coached." It's easy to see why. He's a high-flyer, but his skill level is further along than many people gave him credit for. Plus, Thompson is a high IQ guy - so look for him to get playing time this season. "It's freakish," Matta said of Thompson's athletic ability.
- One of the new big men will need to step up to take the minutes vacated by veteran Dallas Lauderdale. The candidates: BC transfer Evan Ravenel and freshmen Amir Williams and Trey McDonald. Right now the minutes would go to Ravenel because of his experience, but the 6-foot-11 Williams could catch him - if he learns to play hard - later in the year. "I think Amir can help us rebound the ball and affecting shot around the basket," Matta said. "He's still learning."
- Sophomore J.D. Weatherspoon has the athletic ability, but will also need to play hard consistently to get in the rotation.
- Ohio State assistant Chris Jent is a huge addition to this coaching staff, replacing Brandon Miller - who left the business. Jent said he wouldn't have left the Cleveland Cavs if it wasn't for the combination of Matta and being at his alma mater. He also said it'll allow him to be a more well-rounded coach. "It's an opportunity to coach the other side of the ball," said Jent, who was coaching the defense with the Cavs.
- Diebler is now in Greece while David Lighty is playing in Italy.
- I hate to admit it, but Greg Paulus kicked my @#$ in ping pong. In fact, I may retire after my performance - which was just truly embarrassing. At least know we've found a sport than Paulus can actually play.