Back at Ohio State, Kosta Koufos relishing TBT return with Carmen's Crew

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Carmen's Crew center Kosta Koufos blocks a shot from Mid American Unity's Demetrius Treadwell during a first-round win for the Buckeyes alumni squad. Koufos' presence marked a rare return to the OSU campus for him.

The movie quote, obviously a shared reference point, passed easily between the reunited teammates.

At one end of the table sat David Lighty, a five-year player at Ohio State, who played in more games than any other Buckeye. Above his right eye was a bandage covering a gash suffered at the end of the first quarter playing for Carmen’s Crew in Friday night’s The Basketball Tournament game, the unfortunate by-product of a follow-through altered when Aaron Craft stole the ball from a Mid-American Unity player.

At the other end sat Kosta Koufos, Lighty’s teammate for the 2007-08 season and first-time member of Carmen’s Crew. Just before the press conference got underway, and the two addressed their 77-65 win, the gash right at Lighty’s eyebrow brought out dueling references to the 1998 comedy movie “The Waterboy.”

“Captain Insano shows no mercy,” Lighty joked after Koufos teased that his teammate had been poked in the eye.

Yes, Koufos indeed feels at home once again at Ohio State. It was evident on the court, where he had 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. It was just as evident off the court, where the distance of more than a decade seemed to fade into nothing.

“It didn’t change,” Koufos said of the bond with his teammates. “It’s like we never lost our step ... Jon (Diebler)’s been Jon, David has been David. It’s just like we never left. We all get along.”

A five-star recruit from Canton (Ohio) GlenOak, Koufos averaged 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while also displaying a more versatile game than most 7-footers at the time. He went 22-for-63 (34.9%) from three-point range before heading to the NBA and being taken in the first round with the No. 23 overall pick.

His departure, one year after Greg Oden did the same, coupled with a rough academic state of affairs when Thad Matta took over the job, combined to land the Buckeyes afoul of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report (APR) rankings, ultimately costing the team two scholarships in 2009. Since his departure, Koufos has seldom been seen around campus while fashioning an 11-year NBA career spread across five teams and totaling 723 games including the postseason.

Playing on his old campus, albeit at the Covelli Center and not Value City Arena, was an opportunity Koufos said he jumped to accept when Carmen’s Crew coach Jared Sullinger called him about replacing Kaleb Wesson, who had landed a spot with Portland in the NBA Summer League.

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“I’m definitely an Ohio State Buckeye for life," Koufos said after Friday's victory. "I left early because I felt like the time was right. The past is the past, but at the same time, I’m very fortunate I was able to put an Ohio State jersey on my freshman year.”

Sullinger said the conversation about adding Koufos was a simple one, little more than calling an old friend and asking him to pitch in. Koufos also credited Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, now entering his fifth season with the program, for helping make him feel welcome around campus again.

“Chris Holtmann has been wonderful,” Koufos said. “He’s been reaching out to me a lot and it’s truly an honor for him to reach out to me.”

In the NBA, Koufos said he was accepting of the role asked of him. Although he scored 3,913 points, none of them came courtesy of the three-point shot because he focused on rebounding, rim protection and playing in the paint. But in an era where Ohio State’s leading three-point shooter two seasons ago was Wesson, a 6-9 center who made 42.5% of his 106 three-point attempts, it’s not difficult to envision an 18-year-old Koufos enjoying even more freedom at the college level today.

It's not something Koufos said he’s spent much time considering.

“I don’t ever look in the past,” he said. “I look in the present, the future. A lot of guys like Chet (Holmgren) coming in. He’s super talented, super tall, has Kevin Durant-like abilities. I’m looking forward to seeing how his career blossoms.”

What comes after TBT for Koufos is uncertain. He played 42 games for Sacramento during the 2018-19 season before playing in Russia for the 2019-20 season and said the next step is “in God’s hands.” He then pointed out that he’s in great shape and would be “ready for any opportunity.”

The focus is on the now and the future, both of which figure to include Ohio State. When Carmen's Crew's win was complete, it was Koufos who was picked to put the team's name on the next round of the giant courtside bracket.

“Look, at the time you’re 18 years old,” Koufos said of his decision to leave. “You’re young. You want to make the right decision for yourself. God allowed me to stay healthy and I was able to make a decent career. It worked for me.”

And it’s worked out for Carmen’s Crew as well.


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