Ohio State basketball walk-on Jansen Davidson living the dream after nearly missing tryout

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State walk-on guard Jansen Davidson, center, cheers on the Buckeyes against UMass Lowell on Nov. 29.

The crucial follow-up text message came on a Friday night just after the calendar had flipped to October.

It was Oct. 2, and early in the day coach Eddie Days had sent a text to his players on Ohio State’s club basketball team encouraging them to participate in an open gym session the following morning. It would be the first opportunity in months for the team to get together, but Jansen Davidson had family coming to town that Saturday, so he was out.

That is, until Days, a former Ohio State walk-on, sent Davidson a message separate from the rest of the group. The men’s varsity team was sending coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coaches Jake Diebler and Ryan Pedon to watch the session because the Buckeyes might need of an extra guard for the 2020-21 season, and Days knew Davidson was a near-perfect match for the walk-on role.

So Days came clean to Davidson, who texted back: “I’ll definitely be coming now. Fam gonna wait.”

A month and a half later, Davidson was standing on the free-throw line inside Value City Arena about to attempt the first free throws of his official Ohio State career. Whiplash hardly did it justice.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in my lifetime, and I know that will be the case for a very long time if not forever,” he told The Dispatch. “Standing on the free-throw line after I got fouled, I was like, ‘Oh, man. I’m here. I’m on ESPN right now shooting free throws. This is crazy.’ ”

It’s an apt descriptor for the journey the 5-foot-11, 190-pound product of Kettering Fairmont has taken. After averaging 6.3 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 22 games as a senior for the Firebirds, Davidson enrolled at Ohio State to study finance and decided to join former teammate Antonio Atria on the school’s club team. During the past three years, Davidson helped the team compile a 60-9 record and two national championships.

He was team president and treasurer entering his senior year until Holtmann’s team came calling. It was tough to lose him, Days said, but he was thrilled to see Davidson get the opportunity

“Jansen was my best player coming back,” said Days, who made 13 appearances from 2010-11. “He had been a contributor the last three years and had a lot of experience. He’s been grinding for a few years. This was a dream come true for him.”

The fateful open gym session wasn’t the first time the Ohio State coaches had watched the club team, Days said, but it was the first time they invited anyone for further tryouts. Davidson and teammate Max Schulman, a sophomore from New York, both received phone calls from Diebler the following day. They went through a 45-minute workout a few days later that was run by Diebler and eventually watched by the rest of the coaching staff, including Holtmann.

Friday, Davidson’s phone rang. It was Diebler, offering him an opportunity to join the roster as a walk-on.

“Even wearing the practice jersey, it was an unreal feeling and it still is every day when I get to walk in that locker room and realize I’m living out a childhood dream and the dreams of a lot of people in this nation,” Davidson said. “I don’t ever take it for granted, because I know everything fell perfectly for me to be in this spot and I need to make the most of it because of how fortunate I am.”

That was hammered home with 3:23 to play in what would be a 94-67 win against Illinois State on Nov. 25 when Davidson, who wasn’t yet on the official roster distributed to the media, subbed into the game. Less than a minute later, he was headed to the line, where he would miss his first free throw before hitting his second – and then two more with 1:03 to play as the bench celebrated.

“He’s a physical, tough kid,” Holtmann said after the game. “He went from club team to ESPN in a matter of a month and a half, so it’s great for that kid.”

Davidson has yet to make another appearance. Junior walk-on Harrison Hookfin has appeared in two games this season. Playing time is always going to be scarce for a walk-on, but it’s still more than Davidson would have likely seen for the club team this season. Due to COVID-19, it’s unlikely the Buckeyes – or anyone – will play a club season this year.

Instead of an anticlimactic end to his playing career with a canceled club season, Davidson is enjoying his opportunity to practice with and help a top 25 team prepare for Big Ten play.

And it’s all thanks to an extra text message from Days.

“I am so happy he kind of forced the hand on that there,” Davidson said. “Almost didn’t go to probably one of the biggest days of my basketball career. It’s crazy that I almost didn’t go and then it all happened.”