Ohio State's Owen Spencer thrilled to be rewarded with scholarship

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

The situation Owen Spencer found himself in wasn’t all too different from hundreds of other players around the country.

Two seasons into his career at The Citadel, the Cincinnati native was suddenly without a coach. When the Bulldogs fired coach Duggar Baucom after a 13-18 record in his seventh season with the program, Spencer opted to enter the transfer portal and seek out a new home. The problem was that, as Spencer sifted through options primarily at the Division II level, he wasn’t finding the type of fit he was looking for.

Then, he found it, but it came with a catch. Ohio State assistant coach Mike Netti reached out to Spencer and expressed interest in him, but as a walk-on. After having been on scholarship at The Citadel, the biology major with dreams of becoming a heart surgeon would be forced to pay his own way if he wanted to be a Buckeye.

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In the end, the financial hardship couldn’t outweigh the fit Spencer had found at Ohio State. With his parents’ blessing, Spencer accepted the often thankless job of being a practice body who takes a physical beating on a daily basis to help Ohio State’s two primary centers prepare for Big Ten opponents.

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So when Spencer learned immediately after a Jan. 21 win against Iowa at Value City Arena that he was being placed on scholarship, the 6-9, 215-pound big man quickly sought out his parents, David and Sarah, and handed them a letter delivering the news.

“I didn’t tell them straight up,” Spencer said. “I just gave them the envelope. My dad opened it up and his eyes lit up and my mom looked over his shoulder and read it over his shoulder and she started tearing up and crying. It was awesome to have that in front of my whole support system.”

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It was the capper to what was a rare day of joy for the Buckeyes this month. After breaking a five-game losing streak with the 93-77 win against the Hawkeyes, Ohio State’s players and coaches huddled up inside the locker room for the customary postgame talk. In a video posted to the team’s social media accounts, coach Chris Holtmann hands a letter allegedly written by a fan to captain Isaac Likekele thanking him for being a Buckeye.

Nov 10, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes guard Owen Spencer (44) shoots over Charleston Southern Buccaneers forward Cheikh Faye (34) during the second half of the NCAA men's basketball game at Value City Arena. Ohio State won 82-56. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

Then, he handed one to Spencer, who then read aloud the news that he’d been placed on scholarship. It set off a mobbing of the third-year player described by freshman Roddy Gayle as the funniest player on the team.

Spencer said he had no idea the news was coming.

“It was a lot of exhilaration, happiness,” he said. “It was just a really special moment for me. I was really glad I got to experience that in that fashion with my whole team. You saw how they all jumped me. It was a really cool experience.”

Spencer was awarded the scholarship initially targeted for Seth Towns, who opted to retire during the fall after multiple attempts to return to full health after battling injuries for several year.

The plan is to continue a career path that started from a young age. Spencer’s mother is an obstetrics nurse, and from an early age he said he can remember visiting her at work and being intrigued by the medical field. While at Cincinnati Turpin, he applied for a special field trip where has allowed to watch an open-heart surgery.

“That’s when I found out I really wanted to do that,” he said. “I always wanted to do either surgery or architecture, and when I went and watched that I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing that.’ ”

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Along the way, though, Spencer’s love of the hardwood kept him in the game. A three-year letter-winner at Turpin, Spencer was named a team captain as a senior and averaged 11.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 assist per game in 22 games. He enrolled at The Citadel, where he made 23 appearances in two seasons and totaled 20 points and 41 rebounds.

The value Owen Spencer provides the Ohio State basketball team

Now, he spends practices pretending to be the likes of Purdue’s Zach Edey or Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi on Ohio State’s scout team while consistently taking a physical pounding from Zed Key, Felix Okpara and others.

“It’s something I embrace,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t going against Zed and Felix, even if I was back at a smaller Division I school, my play style, I like to be very physical and rebound. That’s part of basketball I enjoy is the physicality of it, taking some anger out whether it’s through school. I enjoy that.”

That mental fortitude was sharpened while at The Citadel, Spencer said, where his entire day was meticulously planned out.

“Having to juggle my military obligations and my academic obligations and Division I men’s basketball obligations, it helped me a lot with structuring my life, time-management wise, being able to get through hard things,” he said. “If I push Zed or Felix, that could be the difference in us winning a game or not. I feel like practice matters a lot to me, so I view it in that sense.”

During games, Spencer is typically seen standing at the end of the bench encouraging his teammates. He has appeared in five games this season, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring 3 points.

“He provides us a scout team center than can also play in a pinch if we need him,” Holtmann said. “Great attitude, great kid. We were really happy to do that for him.”


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