After fellow Buckeyes came to his aid, Zed Key emerges as Ohio State's 'Mr. Fix-It'
When E.J. Liddell needed help mounting his brand-new television this summer, he knew exactly which teammate to call.
So did Jimmy Sotos when he needed the front bumper fixed on his car. Or Kyle Young when his car door needed fixing. Or, undoubtedly, most of the 15-man roster for the 2021-22 Ohio State men’s basketball team.
They call Zed Key, the outgoing second-year center from Bay Shore, New York. Jokingly referred to as “Mr. Fix-It” by his fellow Buckeyes, Key is a handyman packed inside a 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame who can assemble a car’s engine without help if you give him the right tools and is surprisingly affordable.
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“I just know I have somebody there when I always need it,” Liddell said of Key. “I bought him food (for mounting my TV).”
A year ago, though, it was Key in need of a repair – and it all happened on a dark and stormy night in Columbus.
'On a trajectory to the pole'
After COVID-19 changed the athletic calendar and sent the Buckeyes into a new set of protocols, Key was leaving the Target on Olentangy River Road near campus in late September 2020 when he made a turn onto King Avenue. There, he caught a quick glimpse of a woman in her car on a side street who hesitated, stopped and then pulled out onto the road.
Had she not hesitated, Key said he would have directly hit her. Instead, his 2007 Volkswagen Golf GTI clipped her car and, in the pouring rain, was sent careening toward a telephone pole.
“There was really nothing you could do,” Key said. “You try to stop and swerve but you’re on the trajectory to the pole so I was like, ‘OK.’ It was just scary to see the pole come at you. I’m in this little two-door car and there’s this big pole that’s coming towards me.”
The result was a smashed-up front end and a totaled vehicle. Key walked away from the accident with some minor bruises and a scratch on his leg, he said, but a broken heart when he immediately realized there would be no saving the car. He had purchased it after he graduated from Brookville (New York) Long Island Lutheran and immediately began the process of making it his own.
That included a different exhaust, new lights and a whole bunch of other customizations, some of which were now scattered across King Avenue.
“Oh wow, to see all the pieces laying on the ground … I got over it — eventually,” Key said. “Well, not really. I’m still not over it, really.”
Mind racing, Key called his parents, who were home nearly 600 miles away. They told him to call assistant coach Jake Diebler, and as he did Key thought to send a message to his new teammates letting them know he was in an accident and included his GPS location.
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In short order, they showed up. All of them.
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This wasn’t the first time Key had his car totaled. As a senior in high school, he was involved in a hit-and-run when a drunk driver in an SUV T-boned his car as he was turning into the school’s parking lot for the homecoming football game. He currently drives his mom’s 2006 Buick Lucerne while hoping to earn a new ride though name, image and likeness rights.
“I can’t have nice things,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve come to that conclusion.”
After this accident, though, he had his teammates there to help him through the aftermath. As he talked with insurance and the police, Key said they helped settle his jittery nerves as he paced around the scene.
“It just felt special, really, just having everyone there at a tough time,” Key said. “I really like cars, and to see a car that was all bruised and battered that I put time into, it was a lot of pain to see that. We had a really good group of guys, and we loved each other and wanted to make sure that everyone was OK.”
The response of his teammates foreshadowed what type of season was in the offing for the Buckeyes. Although it would end in bitter fashion with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oral Roberts, Ohio State enjoyed a seven-game Big Ten winning streak, was in the running for a league title until the final week of the regular season and took Illinois to overtime in the Big Ten tournament title game after three wins in as many days.
Ask anyone who was around that team, and they will tell you there was a bond that enabled the Buckeyes to persevere through unprecedented adversity. For Ohio State to keep punching near the top of the league, that will have to remain the case this season. Ten players return from that team.
Liddell said the Buckeyes will carry over those relationships from last year in part due to a person like Key.
“I just wish he was here my freshman year because I got a flat tire going to Five Below or something,” Liddell said. “I was out there for about 30 minutes. (Assistant coach) Ryan Pedon came out there immediately but I wish Zed was here. We probably would’ve got it done faster.”
If they need anything, the Buckeyes know they can call Key – especially if it pertains to their cars.
“Most definitely,” he said. “Knowing that my teammates trust me in that area, it’s a good feeling. I’m here whenever they need their car fixed – for cheap.”