Eugene Brown, Zed Key officially sign with Ohio State

Adam Jardy
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann cheers on his team during second half of the NCAA men's basketball game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Value City Arena in Columbus on Feb. 20, 2018. Ohio State won 79-52. [Adam Cairns]

Ohio State has officially added two recruits that coach Chris Holtmann said have a “unique ability to impact the way we want to play.”

On Friday, the Buckeyes announced that they had received signed national letters of intent from Eugene Brown III and Zed Key for the 2020 recruiting class. Their additions push Ohio State one past the limit of 13 scholarship players for next season, but Holtmann said he’s comfortable with such a situation for the first time in his coaching career because of what the duo brings to the program on and off the court.

“You’re trying to anticipate that to some degree,” Holtmann said of the potential for roster moves at the end of this season. “We were looking at all that and trying to manage that all the right way. Honestly, we just love these two kids and their families. They are terrific fits and terrific people, but I think people also look at your roster and it eliminates you from some situations and that’s fine because it was a smaller class for us, anyway.”

The 6-foot-6, 185-pound Brown is a senior guard at Decatur (Georgia) Southwest DeKalb. Key, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward, is a senior at Glen Head (New York) Long Island Lutheran. In the 247Sports composite rankings, they are listed as four- and three-star recruits, respectively.

Brown projects as a wing who can provide scoring and versatility, Holtmann said, while Key is a back-to-the-basket scorer.

“Both guys have a unique ability to impact the way we want to play,” he said. “They both fit a need, Eugene with his versatility and his ability to play multiple positions on the perimeter and that bigger wing that we’ve been looking for is really going to be important. And Zeb with his physicality, his length, his frame, I think he’s just scratching the surface on his ability to continue to get better and his ability to score with his back to the basket, which is always unique in our game today.”

During his first three years of high school, Brown averaged 9.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists before suffering a broken leg as a junior. In five games last year, Brown averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Key averaged 15.9 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior and got the attention of the Ohio State coaching staff while participating in the 2019 National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp where he averaged 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in four games.

“Both guys fit our needs, how we want to play, the kind of people they are, the culture of our program, the kind of families they come from, just like the people we recruited in the previous classes,” Holtmann said. “We feel strongly about that. We feel like we needed an additional wing/guard and an interior guy and potentially a back-to-the basket scorer.”

Key also provides a low-post option should junior Kaleb Wesson play his way into the NBA this season, a move that has looked increasingly likely after he shed 35 pounds in the offseason and impressed in an NBA workout. Holtmann has said Wesson is playing the best basketball of his career, and in Wednesday’s 25-point win against No. 10 Villanova, he had his second consecutive double-double and also had four blocks and no fouls.

Holtmann made it clear Wednesday night that he’s not trying to push Wesson out the door and bristled at the notion that he’s playing for the NBA and not Ohio State.

“Kaleb’s certainly going to have options at the end of the year and he and his family will sit down and determine what’s best for him and his future and his career,” Holtmann said today. “That’s months away. Obviously he’s a huge part of our program. I think it’s something you consider but by no means was that exclusively the reason.”

But given the current climate of college basketball and the rising number of yearly transfers, there’s also now always the potential for further roster movement.

“That will all take care of itself,” Holtmann said of the roster numbers. “I’ve got no uncertainties about that.”