Injuries don't dim love of the game for Ohio State's Seth Towns

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Seth Towns (31) forms an "O" with his arms while being filmed in the northwest rotunda during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

There’s a question that’s been turning over and over in Seth Towns' mind.

When the Ohio State men’s basketball team opens its preseason Thursday with its first official practice, the sixth-year graduate student will be watching from the sideline. After knee injuries cost him more than two seasons of his college career, Towns’ legs are no longer holding him back anymore; it’s his back that’s the issue.

By the time the Buckeyes face Kentucky in Las Vegas as part of the CBSSports Classic on December 18, Towns figures to be back in the lineup. Another setback, to a different part of his body, does beg the question: What does Seth Towns love so much about basketball?

“This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as you can probably guess just because I’ve been injured so much,” Towns said Tuesday. “A lot of questions looming.”

The search for answers takes the Northland product and Harvard graduate back to his youthful days playing the sport at the YMCA, where he said he fell in love with competing and playing the game. A lot has changed since then. A lot hasn’t.

“Obviously things have grown since then with my basketball career, with everything surrounding it, but competing in the game I love, that’s really what it all comes down to,” he said. “Once you do that, none of the other stuff really matters and that’s what you realize in those moments. It begs the question: Do I love it, and how much do I love it? That kind of answered the question.”

After missing his final two seasons at Harvard due to knee injuries, Towns transferred to Ohio State during the spring of 2020 and reveled at the opportunity to play for his hometown school. He began working on his return to the court and made his debut in the seventh game of his first season, a win against UCLA in Cleveland on December 19. During the year, Towns would often sit out practices and simply give as much as he could come game time.

He would finish the season averaging 3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 25 games, not quite the 14.2 points-per-game average he posted during his 58 games at Harvard but a sign that better days were still ahead. Throughout, Towns said that while he couldn’t promise specific production numbers, Ohio State fans would be able to see how much the opportunity to play for the Buckeyes meant to him.

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That will remain the case this season, he said.

“I’m a Buckeye,” Towns said. “That’s something I didn’t know if I’d say, ever, when I chose Harvard. It’s something I grew up wanting to be. I had that mural on my wall, and it manifested. It came to fruition. It’s hard to really feel it in the moment, but every time I look back at actually being a Buckeye it’s surreal.”

Earlier this month, Towns said he underwent microdiscectomy surgery. In short, the procedure removes a damaged disk to relieve pressure on the patient’s nerves, and Towns is facing a timetable of 3-4 months for a full recovery.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I could write a book about this (stuff), honestly. You’ve got to take it day by day. You can’t get too down because hope is still alive, hope is still there. Honestly, the chances are really good for me to have a good year.”

What lies beyond this season is impossible to know for Towns, who said he still has “hoop dreams” that extend beyond playing at Ohio State. For now, he’s bringing back the same approach that helped him through the grind that was last season: taming expectations and realizing that whatever he has is all he can give.

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There’s still a joy to be found in that, even if Towns has to dig beneath the frustrations to find it.

“It’s something I feel like I’m going to be playing (basketball) with my kids when I’m 50 years old in my driveway,” he said. “The love of the game is something that doesn’t change regardless of how hard it hits you.”