Jimmy Sotos relishes chance to shine for Ohio State against Seton Hall

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Jimmy Sotos

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Jimmy Sotos had an uncomfortable flashback during the final minutes of Monday night’s game.

With Ohio State clinging to a late lead against No. 21 Seton Hall as part of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, the fifth-year guard was putting the finishing touches on his most impactful game of the young season. In what would be a season-high 18 minutes, Sotos finished with six points while helping fill a void left in the rotation by the absence of second-year guard Gene Brown III.

It was reminiscent of the last time Sotos stepped into a void left by an injured teammate, a game that doubled as the afternoon he suffered a separated right shoulder that ended his 2020-21 season.

Growing where he's rooted:Ohio State's Ryan Pedon builds Buckeyes, plans for future

“It was almost like a relief for me,” Sotos said one day after the 79-76 win against Seton Hall. “It was like, ‘I’m doing this, here we go. I remember with like three minutes left I said to myself, ‘I just can’t get hurt.’ The last time I got here, and then I didn’t get to live to see the next game.’ I knew I had to get through the game now.”

Jimmy Sotos' recovery

That injury happened Jan. 9, 2021, a game played at Rutgers. In his first start for the Buckeyes, Sotos logged 28 minutes, hit a pair of 3-pointers and had four assists with just one turnover before he dove for a loose ball late in the second half and landed hard on his outstretched right arm. He wouldn’t return for the rest of the season, and when Ohio State opened the season with a nail-biting, last-second one-point win against Akron, a fully healthy Sotos only watched from the sideline as an unused substitute.

The same went for last Thursday’s game at Xavier, the first loss of the season for the Buckeyes. Four days later, though, Sotos held down significant minutes and helped effectively direct the Ohio State offense against Seton Hall’s pressure.

In between, 317 days passed. Sotos rehabbed his shoulder, appeared in two games totaling 17 minutes and five points scored and waited for his chance in a competitive Buckeye backcourt after three seasons as a primary contributor at Bucknell.

“It’s definitely not easy, especially coming from a school where I was kind of the guy on the team (and) taking a backseat now,” he said. “But I knew what I was getting myself into. I wanted to be a part of something that’s bigger than me, part of something special.”

That’s meant staying patient through the early portion of the season even when his number wasn’t called. After the Seton Hall game, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said he regretted not using the fifth-year senior against the Musketeers.

“I thought Jimmy was great,” Holtmann said. “He really stabilized us, allowed us to handle their pressure better. I thought Jimmy was phenomenal. He’s got to be that for us. I’m kicking myself a little bit. I should’ve used him more the other night (against Xavier).”

His appearance at the Cintas Center didn’t go unnoticed by the Xavier students, however. Sotos and his sizeable social media following were the main bullet points in a paper distributed to each seat to fans who loudly jeered him each time he headed in their direction during pregame warmups.

The booing is something Sotos said he’s grown accustomed to, even if the reasons for it have changed.

“I’ve always been booed because I was the guy on the court and I was able to shake it off and go play, but when I don’t have an opportunity to show what I can do I’ve got to eat it,” he said. “Initially when I was going through this whole process of getting all these followers and kind of becoming a social media celebrity in a way, it was crossing the line but now I’m to the point where I’m used to it. I guess there’s no rules anymore. There’s no boundaries to what people can say.”

Although he has to use a long stick to help loosen up the joint during pregame warmups, the shoulder injury is in the past. Sotos was lauded by new assistant coach Tony Skinn during the summer as one of the team’s best shooters. Practicing against Jamari Wheeler and Meechie Johnson Jr. has helped him keep his handle tight, he said, despite getting many game reps.

What that means for his role Wednesday night against No. 23 Florida remains to be seen. With Brown still sidelined, Sotos could be in line for a similar role to what he assumed against the Pirates. With the Buckeyes committed to the future of the position in the hands of second-year guard Johnson Jr. and first-year guard Malaki Branham, playing time is likely to be sporadic as Holtmann tinkers with lineups and rotations while his younger players learn through mistakes.

That’s fine with Sotos.

“It felt great to just help the team out any way I can,” he said. “That’s my role on this team, so whether it’s supporting guys from the bench or being a leader on and off the court or impacting the game on the court, whatever I can do.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy