By all accounts, Musa Jallow is one of the elder statesmen of the Ohio State men’s basketball team. But the calendar seems to be indicate that can't be true.
Halfway through a college career that started early when Jallow skipped his senior year of high school to join the Buckeyes, he remains among the younger members of the team. When he celebrates his 20th birthday in February, it will be six days after freshman Alonzo Gaffney does the same.
Still a teenager for now, Jallow is a grizzled veteran coming off a trying sophomore season. His playing time fluctuated throughout the season, yet Jallow said he never wavered in his desire to remain with the Buckeyes, and that maintaining such an attitude should help him assume a leadership role on a team with seven players in their first or second season with the program.
“I’ve never really liked the idea of transfers and stuff like that,” he said on media day as preseason practice was about to start. “I just don’t see any point in that. You’re kind of walking away from a problem and pushing it under the rug.”
Jallow was facing a diminishing role last season as the Buckeyes faltered down the stretch. A starter in a win at Nebraska that broke a five-game losing streak, he remained in the lineup for eight straight games but played only five minutes in the final start. It was the beginning of a six-game spell during which Jallow played a total of 31 minutes, culminating with a one-minute appearance in an ugly loss at Northwestern.
From that low point, Jallow flourished. He played 31 minutes in the home finale against Wisconsin, assuming a critical role in a monumental comeback that forced overtime, and started all four postseason games while averaging 25 minutes per game.
“I learned a lot about myself personally, a lot about coach (Chris) Holtmann,” Jallow said. “We really bonded over that experience and talk about it a lot. I feel like that will help me connect with the team more, them seeing me go through the struggle and be able to break through it.”
Jallow has been held back in preseason practices by an ankle injury that has hobbled him at times throughout his career. At Big Ten media day last week, Holtmann said Jallow would “certainly” be out for the next week or two.
When Jallow is back, Holtmann said, his experiences last year should pay dividends on a young team.
“I do think there’s something to what Musa is saying that they saw him struggling, they saw him not playing a whole lot at certain times, and he kind of hung in there and found a way to make a contribution at the end of the year,” Holtmann said. “I think guys do respect that.”
Compared to his freshman season, Jallow’s averages saw slight improvement across the board in points (from 2.5 to 2.9), rebounds (1.5 to 2.9) and shooting percentage (.392 to .424). When healthy, he’s expecting to impact a game in the same way he did a season ago — by doing whatever the game plan calls for.
“Game by game Holtmann is going to have a different set of objectives for me to have,” Jallow said. “Being able to adjust, especially with our lineup and working against the other teams’ lineup, (having different roles) actually makes it a little easier.”