With one season of high school basketball left, there was little indication that Harrison Hookfin would be continuing his career upon graduation.
Hardly even a role player as a junior for Lebanon, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Hookfin averaged less than a point and a rebound per game, appearing in 15 of his team’s 23 games.
Now, thanks to a growth spurt, a continued love for the game and some fortuitous circumstances, he’s a Buckeye.
“It’s a great story, honestly,” said Kevin Higgins, Hookfin’s coach at Lebanon who now coaches at Hamilton, also in southwest Ohio. “It’s incredible he’s a walk-on at Ohio State.”
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Now a freshman walk-on for coach Chris Holtmann, Hookfin is listed at 6-5, 220 pounds. That’s the physical transformation part of the equation. On the court, though, everything just started to click toward the tail end of that junior season. Not a starter for Lebanon’s freshman or junior varsity team, Hookfin didn’t leave the lineup as a senior, when he averaged a team-high 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing 29.7 minutes per game.
It was enough to draw the attention of Division III schools. But Hookfin had his sights set elsewhere.
“He said, ‘I want to walk on (at Ohio State),’ ” Higgins said. “I told him, if you ever get on the team, that’s a long shot. You’ve got to expect to never play, you’re simply (for) practice, and it can be a grind. You have to be a phenomenal teammate. You can’t complain. He goes, ‘Coach, I don’t care. That’s all I want to do.’ ”
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The problem was that the Buckeyes were not in the market to add more walk-ons for the 2018-19 season. But Higgins worked some connections he had through Wooster, one of the Division III schools recruiting Hookfin, and got in touch with Ohio State assistant Ryan Pedon to put Hookfin on the radar.
Then in mid-January, the Buckeyes found themselves looking after their already thin frontcourt took a hit when Kyle Young went down with a stress fracture in his right leg. The call went out for another player with decent size to help shoulder some practice responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Hookfin had been playing pickup and intramural basketball and getting his Biology degree started. He joined the team in late January and made his debut for the final moment of a 90-70 win against No. 22 Iowa on Feb. 26.
“He deserves it,” Higgins said. “He just worked his way up to the point where he’s on a Division I basketball floor. That’s pretty amazing.”
There could be more in the offing. When sophomore center Kaleb Wesson was suspended last Friday for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy, Holtmann joked that Hookfin might be a candidate for playing time once they “taught him a play or two.” Tuesday afternoon, as the Buckeyes prepared for Wednesday night’s game against Northwestern, Holtmann said that had been the case and that they spent part of Monday’s practice teaching Hookfin the basics of their ball-screen defense.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is a first. Practice 93, we’re teaching ball-screen defense to a guy that could play in a game here in a day or two,’ ” Holtmann said. “We’ll see.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Young, who hasn’t been able to practice, said Hookfin has been a solid addition to the roster.
“He’s a good kid,” Young said. “Coming in at the time he did, that’s hard for anybody. He’s adjusted really well. I think he’s competing in practice. He was doing some scout-team stuff, giving us good looks. I like him as a person, as a player. That would be awesome for him (to play more).”
Regardless of the role demanded of Hookfin, Higgins said the freshman will be ready and willing.
“I think right now he’s soaking up the moment, trying to fit in, making new friends,” the coach said. “Harrison’s always going to be in this role as a team guy. He’ll do whatever a team needs him to do.”