There will be an empty seat at St. John Arena on Friday night.
In a sold-out return to the spiritual home of Ohio State basketball, the Buckeyes will welcome a capacity crowd to see them don retro uniforms and host Cleveland State. The building was home to the program for 42 seasons, and it will open its doors again for the men’s team for the first time since 2010 as coach Chris Holtmann continues to seek ways to embrace the history of the program.
He need look no further than his coaching staff to assistant coach Ryan Pedon, a Bexley native whose family held season tickets for as long as he could remember during his childhood. They had four seats that, to this day, Pedon can still immediately recall: Section 7A, row 14, seats 1-4 — “Right on the aisle,” he said.
The seat directly on the aisle was kept by Pedon’s late father, Felix, who died last March at age 86. Seat 1. When Gary Williams and Randy Ayers were patrolling the sidelines, the Pedons sat with Ryan on his dad’s left, with mom next and his sister rounding out the lineup. So when this game was finalized, Pedon got in touch with Matt Carabajal, Ohio State’s senior director of ticket operations, and asked about the seats.
He bought 10 in the row, nine of which will be filled by family members.
“We’re going to leave the first seat open,” Pedon told The Dispatch. “When we got the job, I told him, ‘How cool is this, Dad? Coach Holtmann’s going to try to play a game every year in St. John Arena. He was smiling from ear to ear.
“Many of my greatest childhood memories originated from those seats. I think when you look at it from a big-picture perspective, to consider the fact that now I’ll be a small part of the operation down on the floor now as a coach at Ohio State, that’s pretty special.”
Felix Pedon had no specific connection to the program, his son said. He was just a Columbus native who loved the Buckeyes and made games part of the family routine, bringing stories of Jay Burson, Treg Lee and Jimmy Jackson to the dinner table. Ryan Pedon dressed as Burson for Halloween one year, and he spent several years as a ballboy for the program where he rebounded during warm-ups, filled water bottles and got towels for the referees.
The Pedons’ connection to the arena and the program typifies what so many fans feel about the building and the memories made there, a place where no seat is further than 155 feet from the center circle. After Tuesday night’s win against Samford, Holtmann said this game is for them.
“It was about our fans as much as us,” he said. “I’m excited about it, but this is about our fans as much as anything, playing that game. St. John Arena is a fantastic environment from what I understand, so I know we’re all excited about it but as coaches we’ve got to dig in and make sure we have the right approach come Friday night.”
The ties between past and present will be thick. Current Buckeyes Andre and Kaleb Wesson will both play on the same court that their dad, Keith, played on from 1983-87. Sitting behind the bench will be Gene Millard, who scored the first points in St. John Arena history and coincidentally was Pedon’s high school coach at Bexley. Providing analysis on the radio broadcast as always will be Ronnie Stokes, who was a guard on Ohio State teams that played there.
“There’s going to be a lot of family there, so it’s going to be fun,” Kaleb Wesson said.
That goes for the Pedon family, too. Ryan Pedon’s son will be there, adding a new generation to the memories. Wary of overstating his own place in the overall story of this game, Pedon did say that he’ll allow himself a moment or two before the game to soak up the scene. His eyes will inevitably wander to the empty seat and conjure up any of a thousand memories.
“I learned so much about the game in that arena and I think my love for the sport, for the Buckeyes, was sort of consummated in that arena, in those seats,” Pedon said. “It’s a special feeling you get in there. It’s an energy that can be recreated at very few places throughout the country. “