When Ohio State players want to annoy the men’s basketball director of player development, they ask him about the gap. On the wall of the practice gym at Value City Arena is a large display proclaiming the program’s NCAA Tournament successes, but the vacated 1999 Final Four appearance has been removed from the display, leaving an awkward space.
Scoonie Penn, a first-year member of the OSU staff, was a key member of that team. Although those experiences have been officially expunged from the record books, the memories remain vivid for Penn — especially his missing jersey that forced him to wear No. 35 for the six-point loss to eventual national champion Connecticut.
“To this day, if there’s something I’ve not yet gotten over it’s that jersey and that final game,” Penn said Tuesday. “Really. Because I felt like we were going to win the national championship that year. In my heart, I felt it.”
This year’s Ohio State team, similar to Penn’s in 1999, wasn’t expected to do much coming off a rocky season. The 1997-98 Buckeyes went 8-22 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten a season before making a Cinderella run through the NCAA Tournament. Last season’s team went 17-15 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten and didn’t reach the postseason, leading to a coaching change.
With the Buckeyes on the verge of returning to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus, Penn has been preaching a lesson of appreciation to a team that he said reminds him somewhat of its 1999 predecessor.
“You’re going to win games, you’re going to lose games, but you’re going to remember these games,” Penn said. “I remember every tournament game I played in. I remember how I felt and the results. It’s something these guys will take on for the rest of their lives, so hopefully they can go on a run and have some really good memories of being an NCAA Tournament team.”
Three current Buckeyes have played in the NCAA Tournament. Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams have combined for 90 career minutes and 25 points in the tournament, winning one game in the process. Graduate transfer Andrew Dakich made three trips to the tournament with Michigan as a walk-on but did not play.
Coach Chris Holtmann said the lack of postseason experience has been jarring to him but that Penn, along with student assistant coach Greg Oden, has been an asset for this team in that regard.
“Those guys, they love Ohio State,” Holtmann said. “Scoonie’s with us every day and the role that he is allowed to do per NCAA rules, he does a really, really good job with it.”