The Ohio State frontcourt took a hit Tuesday with the news that forward Kyle Young is out indefinitely because of a stress fracture in his lower right leg.
The news, announced one day in advance of Wednesday’s home game against Purdue, means that the Buckeyes now have to figure out how to replace one of their primary rotation players. Young, a sophomore, averages the sixth-most minutes on the team (22.0) and has started 12 of Ohio State’s 17 games. Although he’s not an offensive focal point, Young has shot 73.2 percent from the floor, largely on tips, dunks and floaters in the lane.
Coach Chris Holtmann said Young impacts the game offensively in two ways.
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“He does with his activity and his motor,” he said. “That’s what is going to continue — his career’s obviously not over, this is a momentary thing — but that’s what’s going to help him to continue to be an effective player is his motor and his athleticism and his feel. He gets a lot of opportunities off the attention that some of our other guys get; in particular, Kaleb (Wesson). Other guys are going to have to provide that for us. We don’t necessarily play through him but he’s a perfect guy to play off some of those other guys.”
That’s one area in which the Buckeyes will have to replace Young’s contributions. Another is in the team’s overall defense, where the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Young is the third-heaviest player on the roster. Overall, there are only two lineups without Young that have played more than 10 minutes with a positive plus-minus rating:
• Plus-49: C.J. Jackson, Luther Muhammad, Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson and Kaleb Wesson — 180 points scored, 131 allowed in 99:31
• Plus-26: C.J. Jackson, Duane Washington Jr., Keyshawn Woods, Musa Jallow and Kaleb Wesson — 45 points scored, 19 allowed in 16:49
So who starts to fill Young’s role?
“Without getting too specific, that’s something we’re still evaluating here,” Holtmann said. “I think it will be a combination of really a number of guys, Jae and Justin, Musa, those three guys in particular.”
That would be Jallow, a sophomore, and freshmen Jaedon LeDee and Justin Ahrens.
“I think they’re ready to do it,” junior forward Andre Wesson said. “They’ve done it in practices so far. Musa, he’s played the 4 sometimes in practice. Justin has, and obviously Jae playing the 5, I think they’ve done a good job.”
Here’s what we’ve seen from all three this season and what might be expected of them in Young’s absence. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
It’s been a year of acclimation for the 6-5, 180-pound swingman from Versailles. Ahrens has played sparingly, totaling only 52 minutes in 10 appearances — the least of any recruited scholarship player on the roster — and much of that has come late with games already decided.
In the last two games, however, Ahrens has seen first-half minutes and played a career-high 10 minutes at Iowa. He’s not as big as LeDee, but the two have been held back by some common themes.
“Similar in a lot of ways in terms of the defensive stuff that probably doesn’t get seen as much, some of the details across the board,” Holtmann said. “The physicality for Justin, that’s not been as much of an issue for Jae because he’s naturally a pretty physical kid, but Justin I think is trying to adapt to the physicality and the athleticism and the length that he’s facing.”
Here's a preseason feature on Ahrens.
After averaging 14.0 minutes as a freshman, Jallow’s minutes have dropped to 11.8 per game this season
At the same time, his production averages have been up in every category: scoring (from 2.5 to 2.8), rebounding (from 1.5 to 2.4), shooting percentage (from .392 to .405) and three-point shooting percentage (from 25.0 to 33.3).
But sandwiched around a 21-minute outing at Iowa are three-minute appearances in losses to Rutgers and Maryland. However, he does bring a motor reminiscent of Young’s.
“It’s not been as consistent as Kyle’s and it’s not been as consistent as say Andre’s, so that’s an area that definitely needs to improve for him to be effective for us because I think he has that potential,” Holtmann said.
Here's a preseason feature on Jallow.
The most physically imposing of the trio, the 6-9, 230-pound LeDee has mostly spelled Kaleb Wesson at center but recently has logged one shift in each of the last two games at power forward alongside the sophomore.
“Our only true traditional post player is Kaleb but we’ve all played power forwards, two power forwards together,” Holtmann said. “With Jae, we’ve tried to just teach one position right now because there’s a learning curve there. He’s done well with it at times and he’s also struggled with it at times so we’ve tried to not overwhelm him, but I’m sure there will be times where we see them together on occasion.”
LeDee is averaging 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 6.9 minutes per appearance. Twenty eight of his 50 points this season were scored in two games — 16 against Purdue Fort Wayne and 12 against South Carolina State. A big body, LeDee has been dealing with a learning curve, Holtmann said, but in doing so the coach hesitated to classify him as a “raw” player.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever said ‘raw’ in describing him, because he’s a skilled player,” Holtmann said. “I think his learning curve has been significant in general but primarily on the defensive end. He was bigger than everybody he played against for the most part. Like anybody, there’s a learning curve there, but he’s a really good ball handler for a bigger kid. His footwork has really improved. His understanding of plays you can and can’t make at this level is growing, but it’s a process. He’s had a great attitude and a great approach.
“He makes free throws, he gets to the foul like almost immediately when he gets in there because of how active he is, but he’s got to play without fouling. He’s got to be more disciplined there and his defense is going to need to continue to improve. If that does, I’m excited about what he can bring.”
Here's a preseason feature on LeDee.