Tribute to Matta is perfectly placed
There used to be 14 banners hanging from the rafters on the south side of Value City Arena. The banners commemorate the highest points of Ohio State men’s basketball history. On Wednesday night, at halftime of the Syracuse game, a 15th banner was unveiled. It fit in perfectly.
Thad Matta was honored at halftime with one of the ultimate tributes that can be received for someone in his profession. Before an appreciative crowd of 16,962, a black-fabric cover was pulled to reveal Matta’s banner — white with scarlet trim and lettering:
Thad Matta, Head Coach, 2005-2017, 5 Big Ten Titles, 4 Big Ten Tournament titles, 2 Final Four Appearances, 337 Wins Ohio State Record.
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“I’m not sure I deserve that being up there,” Matta told the crowd, “but now that it’s up there, what the hell, let’s keep it.”
Matta’s banner hangs on one end of the row, beside Evan Turner’s No. 21. On the other end, next to John Havlicek’s No. 5 and Jerry Lucas’ No. 11, is this one: Fred Taylor, Head Coach, 1959-1976, 7 Big Ten Titles, 4 Final Four appearances, 1 National Championship.
The school’s basketball legacy is in-between.
The end for Taylor came because he was too academically demanding or because he slipped in his recruitment of African-American athletes or because the administration didn’t want the basketball team to be too successful, you know, because football. There are a lot of stories out there.
The end for Matta came because he missed the tournament two years in a row, or because a number of recruits were defecting, or because of botched back surgery, or because he and athletic director Gene Smith figured it was time for a change of leadership. There’s a lot of speculation out there.
Matta said he is all good with Ohio State.
“No question,” he said. “Gene still remains one of the best friends I have in my life. I understand the nature of the business and the things that can happen. … This thing is growing now.”
This was a nod to Chris Holtmann, who may someday emerge as the greatest coach in Ohio State men’s basketball history. He certainly is off to a good start.
A good case can be that Matta stands above Taylor, Harry Olsen, Lynn St. John, all of them. If it’s curious that he is getting his banner just 18 months after he was fired — Katie Smith, for instance, waited five years, and Hondo 43 — it is certainly deserving. He brought a raft of terrific players to Columbus, his record is sterling — and no one can find anyone who has a harsh word to say about the man.
Nobody told Matta that they were going to do a banner. He joked that he thought he might get a rocking chair or some golf balls. The banner thing hit him. He said he has studied banners in every arena he has ever worked. He appreciates the history. He was blown away to have a banner of his own here, at Ohio State.
“They usually do something like this (banner) when a guy’s dead,” Matta half-joked to the media. “I’m glad I got to see it.”
He is all class. He says he feels great, physically. He said he will not apologize for being happy. It was good to see him standing at halfcourt with his wife and two daughters, looking up at that banner.
As they did, Matta told the crowd: “My only hope is when one of my former players comes in here and they look up there … (Matta choked up) … they smile.”
They will. And when they are all gone, the banner will still be up there — hung in the next building, and the next — and it will still belong, and so on, for as long as Buckeyes are dribbling basketballs. And smiling.
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