As is tradition at Ohio State, each member of the team’s freshman class was off-limits to the media until they actually played a game in uniform.
The fact that the game didn’t count for anything other than experience didn’t matter. So as the Buckeyes finished off UNC Pembroke on Thursday night with an 81-63 win that wasn’t nearly that close, it meant all four members of the 2018 recruiting class were brought to the postgame interview room to make their media debuts together.
From left to right, there was Justin Ahrens, Luther Muhammad, Jaedon LeDee and Duane Washington. Each player answered at least one question (the primary drawback to the format is it makes follow-up questions difficult), and a theme emerged: this group has personality.
Washington had a few thoughts on what this foursome brings to the Buckeyes.
“I can give two answers to that,” he said. “One is our energy. All of us have a real positive mind-set. We’re always high-fiving and running and laughing and jumping. Definitely the positive energy always. The other thing is we don’t know yet. We’re still trying to find our identity, all four of us. We’re going to go through the season and keep bringing each other together.”
Muhammad was the lone freshman to start. He had nine points, three assists, one steal and one turnover in 17 minutes and, unsurprisingly, was active as the Buckeyes came out of the gate with aggressive defensive pressure that forced three Pembroke turnovers to start the game.
“It feels great,” he said of making the start. “It’s just been a learning process, learning our defense, the type of defense that we play, standing in the gap, learning the offense, learning all the plays, being a great teammate and coming in ready to work every day.”
Washington was next, subbing in at the 14:46 mark to relieve Muhammad. Not even three minutes in, he had scored on a layup and taken two three-point attempts and had no reservations about getting his shots up.
“My teammates do a great job of giving me confidence every day in practice, even just walking around being a regular guy, telling me the next one’s going on,” he said. “They tell me I shoot the ball pretty well. I’m grateful to have them and I’m going to come in and be aggressive and confident.”
He finished 2 of 8 from the floor for five points with one assist, one steal and three turnovers in 21 minutes.
The other two freshmen had to wait a while. Ahrens was next, checking in with 4:23 to play in the first half. He would finish with three points, going 1 for 5 from three-point range, and had two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 15 minutes.
He didn’t mind the wait to get in, either.
“I was excited,” he said. “I’m not sure how much I’ll play this year, but no matter what, whenever my name is called, I promise to give 100 percent effort and fulfill my role for coach Holtmann and for this university.”
LeDee wasn’t far behind, checking in with 3:15 to play. He played 15 minutes and finished with nine points and seven rebounds while going a perfect 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.
“I don’t know yet (what my role will be),” he said. “I’m just out there trying to feel it out. It’s a new game for me. In practice I’ve kind of just been with the bigs, trying to learn one position at a time and taking my time. Wherever coach Holtmann puts me, I’ll be happy.”
Ahrens said the group began to acclimate from its first day on campus.
“We were in here joking around with everybody,” he said. “I think we knew even before we came here, too, we were going to bring a lot of different personalities to this team, this group. Every day we come in the locker room and we’re here 7-8 hours a day with our workouts, lifts, taking care of our bodies. When you’re together with your team that much, you’ve got to be connected. You’ve got to have a bunch of different personalities. You’ve got to be able to get along, and that definitely translates on the court. If you see us on the court, we’re all always laughing, joking around, talking on defense. I think it definitely correlates.”
Big night for Potter
Most statistics take backseats to the exploits of the freshmen during Ohio State’s annual exhibition game, but Micah Potter’s play was particularly impressive. Off the bench, he scored a team-high 13 points and added six rebounds in only 10 minutes of playing time.
That latter figure was affected by the desire to get LeDee some more experience, Holtmann said, and wasn’t reflective of his overall performance. All four of Potter’s field goals were scored while being fouled.
“Micah did some really good things,” Holtmann said. “We wanted to give Jae an extended run. We all know Micah offensively, he’s always really been a guy who offensively can do some things. He can shoot the ball, he’s got great lift around the rim, he’s gotten to where he can catch balls. It’s defense and defensive rebounds for him at the end of the day because offensively he’s really gifted in some areas. I thought our guys did a great job of finding him, and he did a great job of attacking the rim.”
He also saw a few minutes on the court as a power forward with Kaleb Wesson at center. It’s a lineup that’s been much-debated during Potter’s tenure, but Holtmann downplayed the notion that it could be used more frequently this season.
“In today’s day and age, it’s hard to play guys like that,” he said. “On rare occasions. When you’re playing two traditional bigs, I think it’s certainly something I would like to look at, but 95 percent of teams don’t play that anymore. It’s dictated by your ball screen coverage. Trust me, we have mountains of film to watch to see how guys can guard one on one and in space. There could be times where it’s looked at but it’s not going to be a steady diet.”
Too many turnovers
Ohio State finished with 21 giveaways, a statistic that definitely drew Holtmann’s ire. I’ll get more into this in a story in the coming days, but he made it clear that players who turn the ball over consistently will have their minutes reduced drastically.
Every player to see more than eight minutes of playing time committed at least one turnover save for LeDee. Sophomore Musa Jallow had a team-high five, and Andre Wesson was close behind with four.
“They were picked eighth in the Big Ten? That’s nuts, if that’s the eighth best team in the Big Ten. They’re going to shock a lot of people and I was really impressed with their team.” – UNC Pembroke coach Ben Miller