It's been a full decade since Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the "Thad Five" helped power Ohio State to its first appearance in the national championship game since 1960. To commemorate that season, The Dispatch is launching a season-long feature. Key periods or games will be recalled in online-only oral histories, allowing members of the 2006-07 Ohio State men's basketball team to take you through the year as they saw it unfold.
It's been a full decade since Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the "Thad Five" helped power Ohio State to its first appearance in the national championship game since 1960. With the most high-profile recruiting class in program history and a mix of key veterans, the Buckeyes would finish 35-4 and lose to Florida, 84-75, in the title game held inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
To commemorate that season, The Dispatch is launching a season-long feature. Key periods or games will be recalled in online-only oral histories, allowing members of the 2006-07 Ohio State men's basketball team to take you through the year as they saw it unfold.
With this year's team set to open the season tonight at Navy, the first installment of the series details what the weeks and months leading up to the season opener against VMI were like.
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Matt Terwilliger, sophomore center: The first open gym and the first practice were two of the big (moments). We won the Big Ten the year before but holy crap, this was a whole new level. Literally the first open gym in the summer when those guys were on campus. Just the skill and the intensity level that were brought day one and never really fell off the entire season. One of the big things, and Mike is still a friend so I don't think he'd mind me saying this, is that Mike was brought in but it was Greg and Daequan (Cook)were the two big names in that class and then it was, 'Oh, and we've got Mike Conley.' We had Jamar (Butler) at the time, who was the starting point guard for two years, just won a Big Ten title, and Mike in that first open gym was like, 'Oh my God, this guy, not only is he going to play, he's going to play more than scrap minutes. He's really good.'
Mark Titus, freshman walk-on: There was definitely a buzz. You could tell the older guys knew how good we could be. Me, Greg, Mike and Daequan played AAU together and a lot of us knew Dave (Lighty) already. A lot of us expected us to be great once we got there because they were all so good in AAU and high school. They were almost too young to know that freshmen weren't supposed to be that good. Going in, I think all of us knew that we had a good team but we weren't sure but the older guys were like, 'Yeah, this is a good team.' Coach Matta wouldn't yell and they'd look at us like, 'This is so weird. Why isn't he yelling?'
Kyle Madsen, sophomore center: Obviously the first thing that sticks out to me the most is just the amount of talent that came in with that freshman class. Greg Oden is definitely the best college player I've ever played against, for sure. The other thing I remember and I don't know that I've quite felt it since then was just the amount of buzz in Columbus around the entire team and that class and the basketball program in general. I remember feeling that. I don't know if it was because I was on the inside, but I felt like it was a really anticipated time.
Terwilliger: That was probably the last time that coach Matta went nine deep. We played 8-9 guys because we had eight or nine guys that could really play. There was a mentality in practice, and this helped us keep the intensity level the entire year, was you could take a day off but there's a guy right behind you that's just as good as you that's ready to take those minutes. Our practices, until Big Ten season hit outside of a couple games, were actually harder than the games.
Thad Matta, coach: I remember it was like it was yesterday: 'How much longer is Greg going to be out?' That was a team, there was some unknowns on that. The great thing was some of those guys had won a Big Ten championship the year before, but I was excited to see how we were going to play in terms of all the expectations that had been placed on that team. We were down a guy. We were playing different than we were going to play when Greg got there because he wasn't in there. That was an exciting time.
Oden, after undergoing wrist surgery during the summer, was sidelined indefinitely.
Madsen: Everybody was happy to see us out there but everybody wanted to see Greg in there and see what he could do. I was in there just playing as hard as I possibly could to get everybody ready for the games and get myself in shape and ready for the years to come. There was definitely, I remember feeling a level of anticipation to see what Greg could do.
Terwilliger: At this time, Greg was not playing, so he was out with an injury and just over on the sidelines dunking the ball like it was the easiest thing ever with one hand.
Oden: I wanted to play too. The excitement that those guys had, I wanted to be a part of that but I couldn't so I had to stick with what I could do. I've heard a couple stories about guys in mid-practices looking over at me dunking everything and it's like, 'that's all I can do.' That was how I could show my excitement about the team.'
The Buckeyes were picked fourth in the preseason coaches' poll (with one first-place vote) and seventh in the Associated Press poll.
Oden: I know for me it didn't (bother me). I feel like Mike was that way too, kind of like, 'Yeah, we see them, but we're worrying about the game in front of us. All we can do is win the games we have to win. Every game that we play, we go out there to win. Don't worry about what their rankings were.'
Terwilliger: Other people may have talked about it but it's not something that I remember specifically that we thought we were underrated or anything like that. As a team we were pretty good at blocking that stuff out.
Titus: Honestly, a lot of guys were upset that we weren't No. 1, especially the freshman guys who didn't know how it all works. A team loaded with freshmen wouldn't be No. 1 in 2006. They might be now, but back then we were never going to be preseason No. 1. I knew what the freshman vibe was and we were wanting to prove that we did belong and we were good and should be No. 1. Looking back it's funny to me, but I do remember all the guys were upset that we weren't ranked No. 1.
Oden: Of course he would say that.
Despite high external expectations, Matta kept things light within the program.
Oden: In my memory, coach Matta, he's always been loose. That's one thing. I feel like some of the older guys, they played on other teams but all we knew was that was coach Matta. He was like, 'Don't' worry about the play that happened before. Move on. Show some excitement. Show some energy. That's the reason why we came here.' We kept that up the whole entire time we were here."
Madsen: We had a pretty intense summer leading into that year to try and bring everybody down a level to say maybe you're not exactly where you think you are. I can remember early mornings in the summer running the Horseshoe with those guys or running five miles on the Olentangy Trail over there before anybody's awake and having coach Rich (strength coach Dave Richardson) really drive home a message. It's pretty daunting when you run the lower bowl of the Horseshoe, you get to the other side, you think you're done and there's coach Rich saying, 'All right, run it back guys.' Me and Greg are four sections behind everybody else that is running. We put in a ton of preseason summer work, for sure.
Terwilliger: You know what? He was hard when he needed to be. This is one of the things I think coach Matta doesn't get enough credit for, is he understands when he's got players. He gave us the structure, but he understood that he had 3-4 NBA players on that team and he said, 'Here's the structure. Here's what we're looking to do. You guys make it work.' It's almost the opposite of what you see with some of the other teams in the Big Ten.
The season opened with a 107-69 home win against VMI. At the time, it was a Value City Arena record. As part of the BCA Classic, the Buckeyes would play Loyola Chicago and Kent State on consecutive days, winning all three.
Titus: I definitely remember at the beginning of the season Greg's injury was a big question mark for us. I wouldn't say anyone was panicked that we weren't going to be good, but there was definitely questions as to when he would come back and how long we could go without him. Going into that first game, I do remember that some eyes were lighting up in Mike and Daequan and Dave and Ron (Lewis) and some guys who were good dunkers and athletes. They were excited to play VMI. Then there's also the feeling of we're going to do our thing for a couple of games but we've got to get Greg back because he's obviously the cornerstone of everything.
Oden: These are my brothers. This is everybody I battled with all summer and the beginning of the school year. I was excited for them, but also I wanted to get out there. For me watching them, I was excited for them that they got to do it but also I was a little envious because I wanted to get out there and help. I just remember the excitement. Guys were ready to just not play against each other. That's all we did for so long. They were ready for other competition and to be let loose to compete.
Terwilliger: I think we scored a lot of points in that game, didn't we?
In his debut, Cook set an Ohio State record for a freshman with 22 points in his debut. He connected on his first seven shots.
Terwilliger: *laughs* Not surprising.
Titus: That is perfectly Daequan right there. Daequan probably heard coach Matta say it was going to be an up-and-down game and he just tuned out after that. 'That's all I need to hear. I'm gunning.' Thad said Daequan is the one player I've had where you could stop the game at any point in any game, in the national championship even, ask him what the score is and he would have no idea but he could tell you how many points he had.
Oden: He was so good. People don't know this, but he was the best practice player. He was unstoppable in practice, and I played with him in AAU so I knew what he could do and I knew he was one of the best players out there. I knew that once he got going, nobody would be able to stop him.
Matta: I remember Daequan had 22 and the next game he had like 18. I pulled him in after the second game and I said, 'Look, you're averaging 20 points a game. Your man's averaging 22.' I'll never forget this: he said, 'I'll score more.' True story. (I told him,) that's not where I was going with that.
Terwilliger: All I knew personally is we were better than we were last year. It was a different kind of good just because if you remember the team from the 2005-06 season, it was a fifth-year-senior-laden team that just knew how to play. I knew that if at the end of the season 2005-06 team played our 2006-07 team and gave us some time to play, I knew we'd be able to beat them just because of pure skill for some of these new guys.
Titus: There was definitely a feeling that we were going to do that all the time. I don't think we understood that VMI was unusual. We knew they played fast, but Daequan was probably certain we were going to score 100 points a game after that game. It was a game we were supposed to win, we won, and let's move on. I think a lot of people were focused on the North Carolina game, because that's the one we were looking forward to. VMI probably just felt like another exhibition, which is probably not the right thing to say. I think it was just we're biding time for North Carolina, waiting for Greg to get back.