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Ohio State freshmen Gene Brown, Zed Key surprising their new teammates

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
The Ohio State University athletic department logo, 2017.

Nine of the 14 members of the Ohio State men’s basketball team are listed as standing 6-foot-6 or taller.

One of them has been surprising to his new teammates, though: freshman guard/wing Gene Brown.

“He’s a lot taller than what I thought coming in,” senior guard CJ Walker said.

“Gene’s really tall,” junior guard Duane Washington Jr. said. “I didn’t think he was that tall when he first got here, but he’s definitely a taller wing.”

More:Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann updates Big Ten basketball schedule, state of team

By the numbers, Brown is officially listed at 6-6, 195 pounds. A native of Conyers, Georgia, Brown overcame a broken leg as a junior to average 17 points and nine rebounds as a senior after signing with the Buckeyes. ESPN ranked him as a four-star recruit and the No. 29 small forward prospect in the nation.

He joins an Ohio State roster that coach Chris Holtmann has publicly described as low on perimeter depth this season. It could provide an opportunity for him to carve out a role.

“Gene has shown ability to defensively, we think, be able to help us,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to continue to improve some of his offensive skills and shooting at this level, but really pleased with both (freshmen).”

Walker enters his final season as the incumbent starter at the point, while Washington will start at shooting guard and also handle some minutes at the point. So, too, will Utah State graduate transfer Abel Porter, and possibly Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos, who is awaiting a possible NCAA waiver to allow him to play this season.

“We’ve got to take that challenge on every day,” Walker said. “It’s not going to be easy. Make sure we push people like Abel and Eugene to make sure they stay ready all the time, because you never know when your number could be called.

“(Gene) is really good. Really lengthy, can shoot the ball, athletic. Also can guard multiple positions, 1 through 3. Really athletic, smart kid, willing to learn, willing to work. Just a really good kid. I’m real excited to have him on my team going into my last year.”

He’s not the only freshman to surprise his new teammates. As he discussed Brown, Washington said Zed Key has impressed with his 6-8, 245-pound frame.

“Zed, a very solid, bigger dude, man,” Washington said. “He’s way more athletic than I thought as well. That’ll be helpful. He has good timing on rebounding and blocking shots. Those two will be very good for us this year.”

As a senior at Bay Shore (New York) Long Island Lutheran, Key averaged 18 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He will vie for immediate playing time at center as the Buckeyes will be replacing all-Big ten selection Kaleb Wesson.

“Zed has been as we expected,” Holtmann said. “He’s physical. He’s 6-8 with a 7-1 wingspan, about 255 pounds and he’s used a lot of those 255 pounds in our workouts. He’s a strong, strong kid.”

Both players are dealing with the typical freshman acclimation challenges, Holtmann said, pointing out that they will have to learn how to push through greater levels of fatigue and build more capacity for work, but he’s liked what he’s seen so far.

“They’ve been really good,” Holtmann said. “They’ve been exceptional in the classroom. We knew they were good students to begin with. They’ve been working hard and have gotten better.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy