Buckeyes name Ahrens, Liddell, Sueing and Young as 2021-22 team captains
It’s been more than a decade since the Ohio State men’s basketball program has officially recognized team captains.
That changes this year. Tuesday, the Buckeyes announced four captains for the 2021-22 season: fifth-year players Kyle Young and Justice Sueing, fourth-year player Justin Ahrens and third-year player E.J. Liddell.
They are the first players to have their names listed as captains since Jamar Butler, Othello Hunter, David Lighty and Matt Terwilliger were honored for the 2007-08 season. In the meantime, it’s not that the Buckeyes haven’t had captains, it’s just that for reasons nobody quite understands they weren’t recorded for posterity.
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Young and Liddell represented Ohio State last week at Big Ten media day in Indianapolis.
“Those are two of the best kids I’ve ever coached in a lot of ways,” coach Chris Holtmann said from the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “They embody everything you want, and they’re talented players.”
Liddell is the first first-team all-Big Ten player to return to Ohio State since Aaron Craft did so following the 2012-13 season. As a second-year player, he averaged 16.2 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds while putting together a breakout season.
He did a lot of that damage while playing alongside Young, who is taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility afforded to all players who participated during the 2020-21 season. The Massillon (Ohio) Jackson product has increased his scoring and minutes played averages in all four seasons at Ohio State, capped by his 8.6 points in 26.3 minutes per game last year. He also pulled down 5.5 rebounds per game, a number just lower than his career-best 5.8 average two years ago.
Both players had chances to become professional players but turned them down to return to the Buckeyes.
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“When both of those kids returned, it was a huge thing for our program,” Holtmann said. “If they’d have made the decision to move on and thought it was best for them, I’d have completely understood but I think hopefully in some ways you’re talking about guys who really invested a lot in the program and it validated that they believe in what we’re doing and want to move it forward.”
Ahrens, a Versailles, Ohio, native, has steadily seen his opportunities and production increase during his first three seasons with the program. Last season, he shot 42.5% from three (54 for 127), the best mark for the Buckeyes among players who attempted more than 30 threes.
In 82 games including 22 starts, Ahrens has averaged 4.0 points while shooting 41.2% from three. He averaged a career-best 18.3 minutes per game last season. In an era of rampant transfers in college basketball, Ahrens has steadily worked to grow his role and embrace the challenge of competing for time at Ohio State.
“I knew coming into college that I was going to have to work to earn a spot on the floor,” Ahrens said. “It took me a little bit longer than some other guys, but I made it and I live to fight another day. I’m doing what I can to reach my max potential. I’m looking forward to this season. I’m an old head now. I’ve got a lot of experience.”
That applies to Sueing, too. Now entering his fifth year of college basketball, the first Hawai’ian to play at Ohio State spent his first two years at California before transferring, sitting out the 2019-20 season and making his Buckeye debut last year. He started all 31 games and finished third in scoring at 10.7 points per game, adding 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. A natural forward, he logged midseason minutes at the point as injuries decimated the Buckeyes at that position.
“He’s a great kid and a really good player, really talented, but he’s got a really laid-back, island approach,” Holtmann said of Sueing. “It’s taken a little bit of time for me to figure out the best way sometimes to challenge him, but he had a really good junior season.”
Now, he'll get a chance to lead during his final year in Columbus.