NEW YORK – This is the year when the recruiting class that helped sink Thad Matta’s career will almost entirely be back in uniform.
By the time the dust had settled on the 2015-16 season, the Buckeyes had lost four of their five freshmen from a top-10 recruiting class. The fifth, JaQuan Lyle, actually did quit the team as well during the spring but returned, only to quit for good after one more season and transfer to New Mexico, where he will sit out the upcoming season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
Shortly after that ill-fated 2015-16 season ended with a home loss to Florida in the second round of the NIT, three players left. Daniel Giddens was first, eventually to end up at Alabama, and he was followed by Mickey Mitchell and A.J. Harris. Mitchell first announced a transfer to UC Santa Barbara but apparently never enrolled before winding up at Arizona State, where he will be eligible this December. Harris transferred to New Mexico State.
But the first to go was Austin Grandstaff, a sharpshooting guard who quit the team after 10 games. Although he publicly stated a desire to be closer to Texas and his newborn son, Grandstaff went to Oklahoma before, like Mitchell, transferring again, this time to DePaul.
Now, nearly two years removed from his last collegiate game, Grandstaff is going to be counted on to address the Blue Demons’ reputation as the worst three-point shooting team in the Big East.
“He’s been through a lot in a short period of time,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said at Big East media day at Madison Square Garden. “He’s a guy offensively that can stretch the floor with anybody. The challenge for anybody that’s sat out, especially for someone at his third school in a little over a year and a half has been to find stability. I think as he grows and finds more stability, then the other parts of the game will come with that. You can walk into any situation and know that he can make shots because he has a pretty good basketball IQ.”
At Ohio State, Grandstaff averaged 4.4 points in 11.5 minutes per game and shot 33.3 percent (12 for 36) from three-point range. He came in with the reputation of being a prolific shooter, but Leitao said a comfort level had to be established away from the court first when recruiting a player on his third school in two years.
“Because this individual transferred (twice) whether it’s by reality or reputation, you have to invest in that person and make them feel there’s that relationship built on trust so we can break down walls and get to the real part of why they’ve been around a little bit more than other people,” he said. “We spent some good time together. We’re still building up that camaraderie between coach and player and all the rest of the teammates he has to make him feel 100 percent comfortable.”
Grandstaff spent last season lighting up the Blue Demons on the scout team alongside Max Strus, a Division II All-American two years ago who also sat out the season and grew close to the former Buckeye.
“It was a hard year for both of us,” he said. “We grew together and we have that bond now, so having that whole year to grow together was tough but it was good to have each other. I’ve gotten to know him very well. He’s a good guy. He can really shoot the ball and I think that’s what he’s going to bring to the table this year and help us out a lot.
“He’s had a rough go through his college experience so far, but I think he’s found a home and we’ve all accepted him into our family and we’re looking forward to having him make some shots for us.”