Coach Chris Holtmann was doing a fine job of tempering expectations for Jaedon LeDee as his freshman preseason was progressing.
A four-star power forward built like an upperclassmen, LeDee was often referenced as a talented player but one with a big body who would face a corresponding learning curve as he adapted to Division I basketball.
The implication was clear: LeDee certainly wasn’t going to redshirt, but he was likely ticketed for an end-of-the-bench role for Ohio State. And then Micah Potter opted to leave the team two days before the season opener at Cincinnati, leaving a need for a backup center capable of playing mid-game minutes.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
LeDee didn’t play in the Buckeyes' win against the Bearcats, but he has logged 35 minutes in the last three games entering one Tuesday night against Samford at Value City Arena. LeDee is fourth on the team in scoring average (10.7 points per game) and third in rebounding (4.3 per game), and he has taken a team-high 22 free throws while making them at a team-best 81.8 percent.
It’s not necessarily the role forecasted for LeDee’s freshman season, but that’s fine by him.
“I just like to always be ready,” he said after Sunday’s win against South Carolina State. “That’s what Coach tells me, always be ready, stay locked in the game. When I saw (Potter leave), I saw it as an opportunity to do what I’ve got to do for the team. I think I’ve done fine. We’ve been winning. It’s always good to win. I’m having fun out there with my brothers.”
In his debut against Purdue Fort Wayne, LeDee scored 16 points in 13 minutes on 12-of-14 free-throw shooting. In the first half, though, he logged 3:20 of playing time and had one point and one rebound, and it was that stretch that drew Holtmann’s highest praise.
“The second half is the second half, but the play in the first half was what I thought was good for him, those short minutes where he didn’t turn it over, he didn’t have any offensive fouls, he did his job, he defended, he rebounded with activity, he finished a couple plays, or got fouled,” Holtmann said. “Those minutes in the first half are critical for him and for us moving forward.”
He had another similar shift against South Carolina State where he drew two fouls, threw down a dunk off an offensive rebound and took a charge in three minutes of the first half. Eventually, a three-point shot will be part of his game as he stretches an accurate midrange jumper farther from the rim. Sophomore center Kaleb Wesson said LeDee’s performance against South Carolina State (12 points, six rebounds, 6 of 8 from the line) was not a surprise.
“I’ve seen it from Jae since June, him going out there and rebounding hard and making every play for as long as he can,” he said. “That’s what we need off the bench.”
It’s not likely that LeDee’s role will grow significantly this season. But there will be chances, Holtmann said, provided that, like every player, he continues to earn them.
“He’s really listened well, and he is a physical kid,” Holtmann said. “I’ve been really pleased with him. That’s what players don’t always understand is, if you consistently do that, it’s real simple: you build trust, and that creates more opportunities.”