A gym rat with a 40-inch vertical: Meet Ohio State basketball freshman Roddy Gayle

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

For the first time since 2019, Ohio State is welcoming in the highest-rated recruiting class in the Big Ten.

Headlined by a quartet of top-60 players in the 247Sports.com rankings, this five-man 2022 class is ranked No. 6 nationally and will be counted on early and often as Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann deploys a roster with only three players who saw game action for Ohio State last season. Three transfers will help bolster the roster and play significant roles, but this foundational recruiting class will largely shape where the Buckeyes are headed in the coming years. 

Ohio State basketball commit Roddy Gayle Jr. watches the Buckeyes warm up prior to the NCAA men's basketball game against the Michigan Wolverines at Value City Arena in Columbus on March 6, 2022.

It’s also a recruiting class assembled largely against the backdrop of COVID-19, one that required some ingenuity from key support staff members to help the coaches adapt to a virtual world as in-person recruiting opportunities were shut down for more than a year. You can read the exclusive story on how the Buckeyes did that by clicking here.

Ohio State basketball insider: Stay in the know with texts from beat reporter Adam Jardy

With all five players slated to be on campus by the end of the month, The Dispatch is rolling out a five-day series of in-depth profiles for each player detailing their senior seasons. Today, the series gets underway with Roddy Gayle Jr.

Roddy Gayle, shooting guard

High school: Mount Pleasant (Utah) Wasatch Academy

247Sports composite ranking: No. 41 nationally, No. 2 at his position, No. 2 in the state, four stars

ESPN ranking: No. 56 nationally, No. 4 player from New York, No. 16 small forward, four stars

Vitals: 6-4, 195

Roddy Gayle, Lewiston-Porter High School, 2020 All-Western New York boys basketball, 1st team, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Roddy Gayle knew what would be expected of him for his final season at Wasatch Academy.

As a junior, the native of Youngstown, New York, had a decision to make. With New York prep basketball in limbo during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gayle made a difficult decision to transfer and ensure a season’s worth of games. It took him two time zones west, where he had to adjust midseason to a new setting, team and altitude. Eventually, Gayle found his footing, but it also gave him an idea of what to expect for his final season.

So when it came time to report to Wasatch for his senior year, Gayle arrived two weeks early and lived with coach Paul Peterson. It amounted to a pre-preseason, and it was anything but easy.

“Oh, for him it was terrible,” Peterson said, laughing. “It was like boot camp. We had him meal planning. He had every hour of the day set doing something, whether it be lifting weights or shooting or football field or running hills, eating, hydrating. Every hour was scheduled.”

Gayle said while the work was difficult, the decision to get to Utah early was anything but. As one of a handful of returners, the 2021-22 Tigers were going to be his team and Gayle was ready to lead by example.

When Wasatch Academy officially began its team functions two weeks later, Gayle wasn’t sucking air as his lungs tried to acclimate to the altitude.

“I remember when I first got there (as a junior), I was in pretty good shape because I had been working out all summer and stuff and the first two practices I had, I couldn’t even breathe,” he said. “I was standing outside gasping for air. I knew when practice and workouts first started it was gonna hit all of us, so I wanted to have the advantage and be able to go through a workout or two without being as winded as everyone else.”

That helped Gayle lay a foundation for what the season would be.

“He was the one standing upright,” Peterson said. “He was used to the altitude. Right away, he was the captain, and not just from the basketball standpoint. Everybody knew he was the best player on the team but from a leadership standpoint it was, yep, everybody follow his lead.”

Groin injury hampers Roddy Gayle's senior season

With a full season on the table, Gayle set some lofty goals for his senior year: become a McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade’s player of the year in Utah while helping the Tigers return to the Geico national tournament. Technically, Peterson primarily utilized Gayle as a shooting guard, but more broadly the coach described his approach as “let Roddy be Roddy.”

That meant trusting that Gayle, firmly cemented as team captain, wouldn’t be selfishly hunting shots at the expense of his teammates.

“He was gonna face the best defenders in the country and also he was gonna face double teams and people were going to load up on him defensively,” Peterson said. “We knew that when that time came that he’d be a wiling passer and he’d get guys open looks. We never worried about Roddy, because he’s not a selfish kid.”

Gayle’s first full season at Wasatch was also the inaugural year for the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. Formed in 2020 to try to guarantee games for traditional prep basketball powerhouse schools across the country, the 2021-22 season was the first official season for the eight-team NIBC. The Tigers played 10 conference games against the likes of IMG Academy, Oak Hill and Montverde in addition to a non-conference schedule.

Gayle said the increased attention that came with playing high-level competition proved challenging to his game. In addition to his primary role at shooting guard, Gayle said he spent some time helping at the point and also at small forward.

“I feel like I was a better leader, and I kind of just understood the game more, knowing when to score, when to be able to pass and facilitate,” he said. “Also, I feel like my ability to show my defense on a high level took a big increase so this year did great wonders for me.”

His season took a turn in November when he suffered what Peterson was a nagging groin injury that would hamper Gayle all season. Back home, Gayle said his father encouraged him to shut it down for the season but he did not want to miss his senior year. Peterson said they would manage Gayle’s load during practices and hold him out of drills to help keep him going.

Gayle was his team’s leading scorer in NIBC play. He averaged 15.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in those 10 games while shooting 38.0% from the floor and 24.0% from 3-point range.

“I wasn’t as explosive as I could’ve been,” Gayle said. “I wasn’t able to do none of the moves or really show my athleticism so I had to rely on my jump shot and being poised. I would say I was probably at 85-90% throughout the season.”

Peterson said there were multiple games where Gayle still took over against high-level competition even if it didn’t always show up in a box score. In a conference-opening win against Greenville (South Carolina) Legacy Early College, Gayle “took over” the last four minutes of the game and led a comeback from a double-digit deficit. In a pair of games against Bel Aire (Kansas) Sunrise Christian Academy, Gayle channeled his efforts into stopping five-star Kansas commit Gradey Dick.

Dick would average 17.5 points per game in NIBC play, shooting 41.6% from 3 and 46.1% from the floor, but in his two games against the Tigers he shot 26.3% (5 for 19) from 3, 32.6% overall and scored 16 and 17 points, respectively.

“I was playing through an injury but I was still being able to guard Gradey and chase him around the court,” Gayle said. “It showcased my ability to be able to guard those type of kids, those top-25, five-star kids. I really wasn’t looking at it as him being a five-star, I was looking at it as my assignment and it was my job to shut him down or be able to defend him.”

In the second game against Sunrise Christian Academy, Gayle finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four assists but nearly helped will the Tigers to overcome a 17-point deficit. They would lose, 63-62, but Peterson said Gayle’s imprint was all over the final minutes.

“He just took over defensively, made the right plays, started to speed up the tempo, starting picking his guy up full-court defense,” the coach said. “He caused turnovers he might not get in the stat sheet. Then he hit some timely shots in those last couple minutes.”

Following the season, Gayle signed a representation deal with Roc Nation Sports, part of the entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z in 2008. Gayle hasn’t met the head man yet but said the opportunity came about when he made the decision to finish his senior year back home. While meeting with a family doctor in late February, Gayle was catching up with his former high school coach who posed him a question: how would you feel about graduating at home?

Roddy Gayle, Lewiston-Porter High School, 2020 All-Western New York boys basketball, 1st team, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

A few days later, the Lewiston Porter Senior guidance counselor called Gayle to tell him everything was set up should he want to return for his final weeks of school.

“It was very special to see the support that my family had,” he said. “The people at Wasatch, they supported me even coming back here. I want to thank them and thank my family a lot for being my emotional support and staying with me the entire way.”

And once he was home, Gayle learned that a coach whose team he had played against had a connection with Roc Nation, leading to the deal with a company that also represents the likes of Kyrie Irving and LaMelo Ball.

“It was a confidence booster, just to talk to myself in the mirror and look like I’m doing something good and I can continue on to be a pro someday,” he said. “It was great. I love the guys at Roc Nation.”

What does the future look like for Roddy Gayle at Ohio State?

Gayle underwent surgery May 17 to address the groin issue. It was a success, he said, and doctors told him he would face a six-week recovery. After playing multiple positions for the Tigers, Gayle said he is hoping to bring that versatility to the Buckeyes once he’s fully healthy.

“I feel like honestly I just want to be the best player that coach (Chris) Holtmann wants me to be,” he said. “Whatever he needs or wants me to do, I feel like I have the capability to do so.”

Peterson said Gayle’s biggest growth came in his ability to take over games while also taking more pride in his defense. He described Gayle as a gym rat, someone who spends plenty of time watching film and who also has a 40-inch vertical.

Ohio State basketball recruits, from left, Scotty Middleton, a 2023 recruit, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Felix Okpara, both 2022 commits, watch the Buckeyes warm up prior to the NCAA men's basketball game against the Michigan Wolverines at Value City Arena in Columbus on March 6, 2022.

“Offensively, Roddy’s never going to have a problem,” the coach said. “He’s a three-level scorer with a beautiful pull-up, great vertical, can finish left- or right-handed. Offensively, it wasn’t an issue for him. Defensively was the thing, and playing hard all the time, sprinting the floor, those things.

“I think everything about his game translates, because he is a three-level scorer so he’s not a predictable scorer. When he first got to us, his bread and butter was his pull-up jumper and then his second year he really evolved hitting 3-pointers. He’s got a 40-inch vertical, so finishing at the rim at the college level is not gonna be an issue.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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