Ohio State basketball | E.J. Liddell, teammates shine in Kingdom Summer League action
It’s been more than a decade since Ohio State’s men’s basketball players became able participants in a Columbus-area summer league. Fans of a certain age undoubtedly remember getting to see the Buckeyes play as part of the Worthington Summer League, back when some members of this year’s team were still in diapers.
This summer, most members of the Ohio State roster are suiting up in the Kingdom Summer League, held at Columbus South each Sunday afternoon. On July 7, seven players from this year’s team were in action in addition to Ohio products such as Trey Burke and Travis Trice.
The event consists of four games featuring four 9-minute quarters. Some games featured just one or two Buckeyes on the court together, while the nightcap pitted four Ohio State players against each other split two to a team. It also provided a glimpse into a pair of freshmen, Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell, who also suited up. The style of play best resembled an organized open gym session, with a heavy emphasis on individual action and guard play. In short, it’s a much different type of basketball than the Buckeyes will play this winter.
With that qualifier in mind, here’s a roundup of some of the action.
Liddell stars in nightcap win
The final game of the day matched Ohio State senior Andre Wesson and freshman Liddell on team “Be Greater” against sophomore Duane Washington Jr. and Gaffney on team “Push.”
Each had their moments, but Liddell led the way with 27 points in a 100-97 win. Late in the first quarter, he hit three straight threes. Late in the game, with Be Greater trying to fend off a late charge from Push, Liddell’s teammates found him on the block where he scored consecutive baskets in the paint to help seal the win.
According to Wesson, it was an example of what Liddell has shown since arriving on campus last month.
“That’s what we’ve pretty much been seeing,” he told The Dispatch. “He’s been playing real well since he’s got here and hopefully he can just continue to build upon that and he should be real special this year.”
Along the way, Liddell added a one-handed slam off a missed shot and even blocked Gaffney’s attempt at a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds. By the end of the game, the in-gym announcer was calling Liddell “Antoine Walker Jr.,” a nod to the Kentucky star and 12-year NBA veteran.
Gaffney, who has been held out of much of Ohio State’s summer work due to injury, looked both athletically impressive and young at the same time. He finished with eight points, including a sequence where he threw down an impressive alley-oop dunk from Washington and another where he scored against Liddell in the paint.
There was another where veteran savvy outplayed youthful potential. With the ball at the three-point line, Gaffney drew Wesson as a defender and tried to get around him. Failing at that, he was forced into a fade-away three-pointer that missed. Then, at the other end, Wesson got the ball, backed down the taller Gaffney and scored on him in the paint.
Asked if it was an example of the senior trying to teach the freshman a few things, Wesson laughed.
“A little bit,” he said. “Got to every now and then. But no, Zo’s real good. He’s going to be fine. I’m excited to see what he does this year for sure.”
Wesson finished with 11 points. Washington, meanwhile, had 10 points but sat out the fourth quarter with a slight left ankle injury that had him watching from the bench with a small ice wrap on the ankle. Once the game ended, though, Washington hopped to his feet and walked out in sandals seeming no worse for the wear.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Just a little tweak. Ice it quick and I’m good.”
Washington spent some time handling the ball and got around Liddell once but missed at the rim.
“It’s been good,” the sophomore said of his summer. “I’m working with coach (Jake) Diebler now, so everything is going really well there. I feel the best. I’m getting in better shape. I’m becoming stronger and more confident and smarter.”
He, too, was impressed with Liddell.
“He’s super good,” Washington said. “Super talented. He’s good. He has a really good motor. He’s been working really hard in the gym, getting his body right in the weight room. Really all the freshmen have been taking a different approach and are very serious so we can be better this year.”
Muhammad scores, Kaleb Wesson shows off new physique
The third game of the day featured a pair of Ohio State players on the same team: junior Kaleb Wesson and sophomore Luther Muhammad. Both showed off a few things.
Muhammad, who made headlines earlier in the summer league season with an explosive offensive performance, came out firing and hit a pair of early three-pointers while scoring 12 of his team’s first 18 points. He would finish with 17 points and looked like the dialed-in competitor the Buckeyes saw during his freshman season.
Playing in what was essentially an organized open gym-type of game, Muhammad was upset at a teammate for rushing a shot at the end of the first quarter rather than holding for the last shot. Then, later in the game, he attempted to take a charge. It was whistled as a blocking foul, but the same competitive spirit that endeared him to Ohio State fans last season was on full display at South.
“It’s just been a great experience,” he said. “They’ve been letting us play through fouls, through hand checks. The referees basically letting everybody play hard. It’s physical, it’s competitive, and it’s great competition. It’s pros, college guys, it’s a great atmosphere as well.”
Although he hit the early threes, Muhammad had an airball on another and missed consecutive threes on one possession later in the game.
“We play a little similar to how Ohio state plays, plus I’ve got Kaleb Wesson on my team and that’s getting our gel and connection even better,” he said. “It’s great having a teammate on your team and knowing that he’s going to encourage you and let you know whatever you’re doing wrong and vice-versa.
“If you watch our offense, it’s a lot of ball screens, pick and roll guys and that’s basically what I’m trying to get better on and me and Kaleb are definitely going to be in those situations where he’s setting a screen for me so it’s just getting us ready for the season.”
Wesson finished with nine points in the 87-80 win, and although the style of play isn’t conducive for big men he still managed to impress simply by stepping on the court. Noticeably trimmer and leaner than at any point in his Ohio State career, Wesson said he’s taken NBA feedback to heart and put in significant effort to improve his conditioning.
“They wanted to see my multiple efforts, so getting a bucket at one end, a block on the other and then stay in the play and get a bucket,” he told The Dispatch. “Stuff like that. I’m down to where I was when I first came in, like 265 (pounds). It’s good. I’m lighter and feel like I’m running harder and faster for longer periods of time.”
Wesson said he’s spent the summer also working on his shooting.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” he said. “I’m excited about our younger guys coming in. I feel like we’ve got a good team coming in and we can show a lot of people and impress a lot of people.”
Jallow shows off athleticism
In the first game of the day, junior Musa Jallow suited up for team Bexley Car Care as the only Ohio State player on either roster. He finished with 11 points and again showed the upper-level athleticism that earned him significant minutes down the stretch last season for the Buckeyes.
“It just really reminds me of AAU,” he said of playing in the league. “It’s lighthearted, guys are just hoopin’. It’s not as tense. Guys are working on their games and it’s just fun energy. I’m just working on being a consistent shooter, shooting off the dribble and getting to the rim and finishing. I’m not trying to do too much. I don’t want to get hurt or anything playing out here, but it’s fun.”
Jallow dunked an offensive rebound, scored on a reverse layup, hit a turnaround jumper in the paint and split two defenders on a straight-line drive to the basket from the perimeter for an easy finish. Throughout the game, he was vocal and supportive, clapping his hands and encouraging his teammates in what would be a 92-83 win.
One of his opponents? Former New York Jets tight end and Columbus Brookhaven product Jeff Cumberland.
“That’s just how it is, being in Columbus,” Jallow said with a smile. “I’m kind of desensitized to it because we’ve got all of the older guys playing in open gym with us. It’s kind of what we do.”
The Kingdom Summer League gets underway Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free.