From 'finger guns' to captain? Ohio State veteran Zed Key looking for more

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

On a roster of new faces, Zed Key now finds himself as the veteran for Ohio State.

Among the 13 scholarship players on their 2022-23 roster, the Buckeyes return only two who saw more than 31 minutes of playing time a season ago. Among them, third-year center Zed Key stands atop the list with 60 games to his credit. Listed at 6-8, 245 a season ago, Key enters the season having averaged 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds last year.

Ohio State's Zed Key (24) handles the ball against Xavier's Jerome Hunter while playing in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University on July 3, 2022.

Now he’s looking for more on multiple fronts, and the coaching staff is talking with him about greater expectations that come with being a veteran.

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“We’ve had those conversations: ‘Look, you’re a veteran now. Guys will be looking at you. Hopefully you’ll be a captain. The younger guys don’t know how college is yet so they’re going to be looking at you. Set a good example and lead by example, ’ ” Key said Sunday after playing in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University.

“Last year I was one of the younger ones on the team and now I’m one of the veterans. It’s definitely a big step that I have to take.”

Of the 14 recruited scholarship players on the roster last season, Key was among the five least-experienced Buckeyes. Now he’s part of a roster with five freshmen and three transfers.

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To prepare for the year, Key showed off a trimmed down body while playing in the summer league. Conditioning will be a key for Key, who averaged 19.8 minutes per game but was limited for the final seven games with an ankle injury that cost him three games and limited him in the other four. During that stretch, Ohio State went 2-5 while dealing with fatigue from a compressed Big Ten schedule and injuries to other rotation players.

It ended with a 71-61 loss to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a game in which Key had four points but 11 rebounds in 17 minutes and one that stuck with him for a while.

“I was upset after (that) he said. “We came crawling back against Villanova and I thought we had it, but we just couldn’t get over the hump. I was upset. Took some time off. Needed it. It’s fuel for the fire. We lost to Villanova in the second round so we just come back looking for more.”

That has sent Key looking to improve his body and grow his game. A predominantly back-to-the-basket player for his first two seasons, Key has been working to add a jumper and a 3-point shot to his repertoire. Sunday, he was 7 for 14 from the floor for 16 points but attempted two 3-pointers that both missed.

“I’ve watched what I’ve been eating and stuff and even playing here (in the Kingdom Summer League), keep running and sweating and getting in better shape,” he said. “My conditioning, it’s OK right now but it can obviously get better. It’s nowhere near in-season shape right now.”

Key’s breakout game of his second season came on Nov. 30, when he scored a career-high 20 points to propel the Buckeyes past No. 1 Duke in a 71-66 win at Value City Arena. This season, the Blue Devils will have a chance to avenge the loss when they host Ohio State at Cameron Indoor Stadium exactly one year later.

Of the 10 Buckeyes to see action in that game, Key is the lone returner.

“I’m very excited for Duke,” he said. “That’s crazy it’s at their place now. It should be at our place but I’m not gonna say nothing. Yeah, I’m excited.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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