In new tradition, Buckeyes playing for 'gold jerseys' against Michigan

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
The "gold jersey" trinkets that members of the 2019-20 Ohio State men's basketball team earned for sweeping their season series against Michigan.

Eventually, when his Ohio State basketball career is over, Kyle Young’s famous ripped jersey will be his to keep. It’ll be a memento of the last-minute plot twist that helped the Buckeyes close out a win at Michigan last season and, in the process, sweep the season series.

It won’t be the only hardware he’ll have from that game-changing play, one that saw him hit the game-clinching free throws wearing a No. 50 jersey in a 61-58 win inside the Crisler Center.

In winning both games against the Wolverines that season, Young and each of his fellow Buckeyes from last year’s team became the first men’s basketball players to be awarded a ceremonial “gold jersey” keepsake to commemorate a perfect season against their rivals up north.

Young’s No. 25 jersey, ripped by Zavier Simpson, will be in a frame in his house one day. The golden medallions will forever be in the homes of each of his teammates.

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“That’s definitely something I’m always going to remember,” Young, a Canton native, told The Dispatch. “I’m always going to have those pictures of that jersey being ripped and all of that stuff. It definitely ranks up there because of the rivalry that has always stood between Ohio State and Michigan.”

Ohio State forward Kyle Young (25) blocks a shot by Michigan guard Zavier Simpson during the first half of the Buckeyes' win in Ann Arbor last season.

The idea came up in conversation shortly after Chris Holtmann was hired to replace Thad Matta during the summer of 2017. That fall, as the coaches saw the letter “M” crossed out across campus as the annual football rivalry game loomed, they bandied questions about whether they could find a way to emphasize the importance of beating Michigan on the hardwood.

'You can’t have a loss against Michigan and get a gold jersey' 

That sparked a discussion about the tradition of Ohio State’s football players earning “gold pants” to celebrate each win against the Wolverines. Ideas for a basketball equivalent — a ball? a sneaker? — were debated, and director of basketball operations David Egelhoff reached out to the football program for details on how theirs are made.

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Then came the next, and arguably biggest question: How can the team earn them in a sport with the potential for multiple matchups in a single season? With a 20-game Big Ten schedule, there is the real possibility that teams could meet twice in a season, as well as in the conference tournament.

“I wouldn’t be thrilled to get a (gold) jersey if I went 1-2 against Michigan,” Egelhoff said. “I go, ‘Fellas, we gotta sweep ‘em. You can’t have a loss against Michigan and get a gold jersey.' ”

For assistant coach Ryan Pedon, a Bexley native and childhood ballboy for the men’s basketball program, the chance to start a new tradition held an innate thrill.

“I’ve heard about the gold pants since I was a kid with the football team, and you sort of grow up as a fan understanding the importance of that to the players, the program, and it shines an even brighter light onto the rivalry,” he said. “Now for us to be able to do that for our players on the basketball side I think is really cool. It was something that our players were really excited about.”

The push to both embrace existing traditions and create new ones came from Holtmann. After wins, the Buckeyes now sing a stanza from “Buckeye Battle Cry” in the locker room, similar to what his Butler teams would do. In the hallway outside the practice gym, a wooden cutout in the shape of Ohio features signatures of former players who come back to visit.

Now, every team that goes undefeated against Michigan over the course of a full season will receive a gold jersey with the hope this tradition will continue long after the current staff is gone.

“We have great respect for all of our opponents and in particular this one, given the history among the schools,” Holtmann said. “I learned here pretty early from Urban (Meyer) that the best way to respect the rivalry is to get your team ready to play in that moment and in those games.”

Ohio State guard CJ Walker prepares to shoot free throws after being fouled late in the second half of OSU's 77-63 win over Michigan in Columbus last March 1.

The opportunity will be renewed Sunday, adding a layer to an unprecedented matchup. When No. 4 Ohio State hosts No. 3 Michigan at Value City Arena, it will mark the first-ever top-five matchup between the two programs. It is the only scheduled meeting of the teams this season.

First-year members of the program got to witness last year’s players receive the first-ever set of gold jerseys. Holtmann handed them out as part of the team’s Christmas gifts, which were distributed at a team-only party at his home on Christmas Eve.

“It’s a special moment, especially for that team we had last year, winning two big games against Michigan,” fifth-year senior CJ Walker said. “The rivalry’s been going on for a long time. We just want to represent Ohio State the best way possible.”

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