On Bahamas trip, Ohio State's Isaac Likekele, Sean McNeil taking leadership steps

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – There was plenty of attention to detail when Ohio State took the Imperial Arena court Friday.

The famous ballroom inside the Atlantis resort has played host to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament for the past decade, but on this day the court was the site of the final organized practice before the Buckeyes play two exhibition games. With chandeliers dangling dangerously close to court level, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and his staff put the Buckeyes through roughly 90 minutes of drills and team concepts in advance of Saturday’s game against the Egyptian national team.

“We’re trying to work on habits right now,” Holtmann told his players.

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Ohio State's Isaac Likekele played 114 games in four seasons at Oklahoma State, starting all but four of them.

In other words, don’t sweat the details too much. And yet, fifth-year Oklahoma State graduate transfer guard Isaac Likekele was doing just that in the immediate aftermath of practice. The final addition to a remade roster, Likekele will see time both in the backcourt and in the post as an undersized big for the Buckeyes this season. It’s clear, though, that Likekele takes pride in his point guard abilities, which left him demanding more from himself.

On Monday, Holtmann cited Likekele and fifth-year West Virginia transfer guard Sean McNeil as two players providing early leadership thanks to their “every-day guys.”

Although commanding respect from his teammates is a priority, Likekele pumped those brakes a little bit.

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“It’s been kind of hard for me because I have been a leader for the past four years at my old university but I’m coming somewhere where it’s a new space and I don’t know the system,” he said. “As a leader, you’ve got to know the plays like the back of your hand and I feel like I don’t know the plays too well. It’s just different things that I just don’t know yet that I feel like as a leader here you have to know.”

When the coaches had to stop drills and explain specific actions or plays, they weren’t exclusively reserved for freshmen. Likekele logged 114 games in four seasons with the Cowboys and started all but four of them, but Friday marked the first time he’d even worn an Ohio State practice jersey. Until then, the Buckeyes had been working out in black Ohio State T-shirts.

“It’s a bunch of new guys,” he said. “You’ve got two new point guards. Neither one of us know the plays like the back of our hands. I was messing up. The other point guard, Bruce, was messing up, but that’s all learning curves. It’s early. It’s August.”

Sean McNeil averaged 12.2 points per game at West Virginia over the past two seasons.

McNeil, who spent three years at West Virginia after one year at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, has established himself as a knock-down 3-point shooter and an early candidate for this season’s leading scorer.

He averaged 10.1 points in 89 games at West Virginia. During the past two seasons, he started 55 of 61 games and averaged 12.2 points before transferring.

“I knew how big it was for anyone to transfer and try to get comfortable,” he said. “I only get one year (at Ohio State), so I’ve got to get comfortable really quick. They expect me to take a leadership role and a big role here this summer. I try to do that and let my play speak for itself but be more vocal and help the younger guys.”

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Although the starting lineups for Ohio State’s games against Egypt and Puerto Rico were determined by shooting drills and won’t bear any resemblance to the group that will start when the regular season gets underway, McNeil and Likekele will factor heavily into the plans.

For now, Likekele said he’s trying to soak up as much as possible from everyone who has experience. That includes the team’s returning managers, whose names he quickly rattled off, to redshirt freshman Kalen Etzler, his roommate on the trip.

Sixth-year forward Justice Sueing and third-year center Zed Key are odds-on favorites to be named team captains this year. Until he earns it, Likekele said he’s fine with leaning on the players with seniority in the Scarlet and Gray.

“As far as being the Ohio State-type of leader right now for the team, it needs to be somebody that understands the system like the back of their palm right now,” he said. “It’s just August. I don’t. They don’t expect me to (yet).”

Check back in a few weeks when the preseason gets underway.


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