Thad Matta and his coaching staff knew that if the 2017-18 Ohio State men’s basketball team was to have any chance for success, it would have to rely on Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop. For that reason, the two upperclassmen were sent to an Athletes in Action leadership retreat shortly before the staff was fired.
It ultimately paid dividends during Chris Holtmann’s first season, as the examples demonstrated by Tate and Bates-Diop in their final seasons helped power the Buckeyes back to the NCAA Tournament. Now, as Holtmann looks for leadership from his second Ohio State team, he sent a player to the same retreat.
With 66 games under his belt, including 40 starts, senior point guard C.J. Jackson got a head start on what will be expected from him this season when he took part in the AIA session.
“The coaches sent me to be a leader for this team,” Jackson said Wednesday at Value City Arena.
It was important for him to go, he said, “probably just to get out of myself a little bit. I’ve kind of been, I wouldn’t say taking a back seat, but not really being vocal in practice and off the court. That helped me see where my strengths are as a leader and what I need to work on.”
As the former junior-college player has steadily grown into one of the Big Ten’s better guards, Jackson has largely done so quietly. Not an effusive talker or one to demand the spotlight, Jackson now has to take the lead on a team featuring six newcomers.
Although he briefly lost his starting spot as Big Ten play opened last season, Jackson stepped back into the lineup after three games and closed the season strong. He was stellar in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range during games against South Dakota State and Gonzaga.
That, plus the void left at the upper reaches of the roster, points to this being Jackson’s team. The question looms, then: Does he view it that way?
“I would say yeah, definitely, just because I’m kind of the one with the most experience coming back,” he said. “But not just me personally, it’s my time, it’s all of our team.”
Case in point: Jackson said he has been taking sophomore forward Kyle Young under his wing and encouraging him, much like Tate did for him early in his Ohio State career.
“I go to the gym with him, I text with him all the time, maybe (to) just grab a bite to eat, because I feel like he could really help us this year,” Jackson said. “I try to explain to him that it’s your team as well, and this year can be what you make it.”