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Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar
Since the last edition of the Leaves, the Buckeye basketball team has jumped into Big Ten competition, so we'll look at those mixed results today, and report on yet another serious injury on Thad Matta's roster. Then we'll switch to football and recap which OSU juniors are leaving for the NFL and who's sticking around for 2009. National signing day for football recruits is approaching too, and the OSU coaches are trying to finish off a great 2009 class with a flourish...but one of the biggest names is going elsewhere.

Since the last edition of the Leaves, the Buckeye basketball team has jumped into Big Ten competition, so we'll look at those mixed results today, and report on yet another serious injury on Thad Matta's roster. Then we'll switch to football and recap which OSU juniors are leaving for the NFL and who's sticking around for 2009. National signing day for football recruits is approaching too, and the OSU coaches are trying to finish off a great 2009 class with a flourish...but one of the biggest names is going elsewhere.

Roundball Report

After getting off to a rocky start in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes (12-3, 2-2) found their long-range shooting touch Tuesday night in Columbus, and pounded out 
a 77-53 win over Indiana, as freshman William Buford led the way with 19 points. It should be noted that a win over Indiana ain't what it used to be, what with the Hoosiers sporting a 5-11 overall record, and an 0-4 conference mark, but this OSU team will take their Big Ten W's wherever they can get them, and Tom Crean's rebuilding IU squad was just what the doctor ordered for Matta's young Bucks.

OSU took control of the game early, as the outside shooting of Jon Diebler, Jeremie Simmons and Buford contributed to an 18-0 run that pushed a 15-10 Buckeye lead out to 33-10, and the outcome was never in doubt from that point. The Buckeyes shot a blistering 13 of 24 (54.2%) from 3-point range for the game, with Diebler (5 for 8) and Buford (4 for 7) showing how it's done. Freshman B.J. Mullens continued to progress nicely at center, coming off the bench with 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field. 

And I hope it won't detract too much from a solid game by OSU to note how truly miserable the Indiana team is this year. For an extended stretch in the middle part of the game, the Hoosiers couldn't hit the ocean from a rowboat, and if they have an inside game at all, it hasn't been apparent in the two games I've seen them play. Even the seasoned IU-haters in Columbus had to feel a twinge of sympathy for Tom Crean, such is 
the mess left to him by the Kelvin Sampson regime. Crean will bring them back, but the baggage is heavy.

Back on Dec. 31, Ohio State started the conference slate off with 
a win in their Big Ten opener at home against Iowa. OSU's Jon Diebler had a career high 27 points in that one, and the freshman Buford started to settle in for the Buckeyes, matching his career high with 16 points, as Matta experimented with different ways to distribute the minutes of injured junior forward David Lighty. Then the senior-challenged Buckeyes started to get a taste of what life is like on the road in the Big Ten.


First stop was Minneapolis, where a ranked Buckeye team faced a ranked Minnesota team (13-1 and No. 21 at the time) for the first time since 
the infamous brawl  in 1972. This time around the Gophers were coming off their first loss of the season (to MSU) and they took it out on the Buckeyes with a 68-59 victory. Turner (21 pts.) and Diebler (15 pts.) were the only Buckeyes in double figures, and as a team they played like...well, like a bunch of underclassmen.

Then it was on to East Lansing to face the deepest and most talented team in the conference, and the Bucks absorbed 
a 67-58 loss to Michigan State , a game in which the Spartans seemed to be on cruise control, allowing OSU to stay close, but never really threaten to take control. On the upside, the young OSU standouts got their feet wet against a Top 10 team on the road, as Buford scored 17 points, Mullens 16, and Turner 14 in the loss.

Ohio State limped home, losers of three out of four following the impressive 9-0 start, but a home contest against Houston Baptist allowed Matta's squad to regroup and finish off the non-conference portion of the schedule at 10-1. The Buckeyes coasted to an easy 
89-65 whipping of the Huskies (1-16), who must have found themselves at Value City Arena that night as a result of a bizarre scheduling mishap. 

The Indiana win then got Matta back to 2-2 in the conference, and 12-3 overall, a downright respectable mark for a team that started out extremely young and then lost their most experienced player (Lighty) to injury and their backup point guard (Anthony Crater) to a transfer.  Lighty figures to be out another month with the fracture in his foot, unless his rehab goes better than expected. The good news is that youngsters like Buford and Mullens have benefited from the playing time and are both starting to show why they shared Ohio Player of the Year honors last season. 

Buford scored a career high 19 points in the Houston Baptist win, and then matched that number against Indiana. He shows a sweet shooting stroke as a true freshman, and has never met a shot he didn't like....which is probably not a bad thing on a team without any big time scoring threats. Mullens is starting to assert himself in the post, and has shown an array of offensive moves that are pretty rare among freshman centers. 

Matta's challenge will be not only to bring these young guys along, but then to keep them in college long enough to build some stability for his program. If his standout freshmen continue to bolt for the NBA after one season (or in Evan Turner's case, two seasons) next year will be déja vu all over again. 

Matta had tried to bolster his rather thin frontcourt in the off-season by bringing in 
Nikola Kecman, a Serbian native who played a year at Eastern Arizona before transferring to OSU. The NCAA required Kecman to sit out OSU's first 12 games this season due to his having played on a team with some players who were paid to play. Kecman, a 6' 8" forward got his first game action of the year against Houston Baptist on Saturday, and scored six points in 11 minutes. Then Monday night, Kecman suffered an injury to his ACL, and is lost to Matta and the Buckeyes for the season.

And so it goes.

Going Pro

Ohio State knew they would be losing seniors James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Freeman and Nader Abdallah from their starting defensive unit, and Alex Boone, Todd Boeckman, Brian Robiskie and Steve Rehring from their offensive lineup.  After the Fiesta Bowl, the only questions left were about which juniors would decide to give up their final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. Now we know.

Who's leaving?

Chris Wells

This was the big one. Wells had an NFL body when he was a freshman, and he possesses that rare blend of speed and power that NFL scouts covet. He had to be aware that there was very little upside to staying in Columbus for another season. His injury history is the only thing that might prevent him from being a top five pick in the draft, and putting another year of college football wear and tear on his body didn't figure to change that assessment for the better. When Jim Tressel said publicly several weeks ago that he felt Beanie was ready for the NFL, the decision had probably already been made.

Wells has always been keenly aware of the great tradition of OSU running backs, and wanted to go down in history with all-time greats like Griffin and George and Cassady. The combination of the injury problems and leaving school early probably now consigns him to the second tier of great OSU backs, along with the likes of Byars and Spencer and Clarett. No shame in belonging to that group for sure, but it's a shame he had the injury bug, because I truly believe Wells is as physically talented as any of them. I also think he's the best running back in the NFL Draft, with only Shonn Greene coming close.

Who plays instead in 2009?
- Boom Herron returns as the presumptive starter for 2009 as a redshirt sophomore, but the Bucks have two very talented freshmen running backs arriving in the fall, and both could get lots of playing time next season, especially if Brandon Saine continues to struggle with injuries and inconsistency. 
Jamaal Berry of Miami, FL is ranked by the scouting services as one of the top three or four running backs in the nation. Berry is 5' 11" and 190 lbs., and has 4.31 speed and incredible quickness and acceleration. 

Berry's speed and quickness will be complemented by the power running of 
Carlos Hyde, from Naples, FL, a big back at 6' 0" and 230 lbs., who was rated as a fullback (No. 1 in the nation) by the scouting services, but who has the quick feet and elusiveness of a much smaller back, and is being recruited by OSU as a running back, not a fullback. Considering Herron's relative lack of experience, it's fair to say that running back for the 2009 Buckeyes will be a real youth movement. 

Brian Hartline:

Hartline's early departure was a bit of a surprise, mostly because it's hard to imagine him being projected by scouts as a first day draft choice, even given the relatively weak crop of wide receivers coming out this year. In fact, some OSU fans are cheering his announcement as addition by subtraction for an OSU team that appears to be deep and talented at the wide receiver position for 2009. There are also rumors that the welcome mat was not exactly laid out in Columbus for Hartline's return. 

He had a strong year in 2007, and made some great plays and outstanding catches for the Buckeyes in his two seasons as a contributor, but he'll never be talked about in the same breath as guys like Gary Williams and David Boston and Tony Gonzalez, let alone guys like Glenn and Galloway and Carter and Ginn.  I see Brian Robiskie going in about the third round in this draft, and I hope for Hartline's sake someone gives him a shot with a second day pick, but it wouldn't surprise me if he went undrafted.  

Who plays instead in 2009? -
DeVier Posey looks like he could step in as a starter in his sophomore year, and Taurian Washington is another guy looking for playing time to have his breakout year. Jake Stoneburner will be a factor in 2009 as well, having redshirted this year with injuries. He has tight end size, good speed and terrific hands, and will be a match-up nightmare, especially out of the slot. Dane Sanzenbacher and Ray Small return some experience in that receiver group, and Small could end up as a major contributor if he can stay on the good side of Coach Tressel. Incoming freshmen James Jackson, a speedster from Michigan, and Chris Fields from Painesville Harvey are less likely to see playing time in 2009, but add to the depth at the position.

Donald Washington:

Washington spent four years in Columbus and after redshirting as a freshman, he was a major contributor for three years, first as the nickel back in 2006, and then as a starter at cornerback for the past two seasons. Overshadowed by the spectacular Jenkins for most of his time here, Washington is one of those guys that will probably be missed more than any of us realize right now. 

Who plays instead in 2009?
- Losing two of their top three cornerbacks leaves the Buckeyes dangerously thin at the position, at least in terms of experience. With Malcolm Jenkins and Washington playing on Sundays, Chimdi Chekwa returns as the only cornerback with significant game experience....which is pretty scary, especially considering that OSU will have exactly one game to get ready before USC comes to town on September 12. As you'd expect, the Buckeyes have any number of talented young cornerbacks on the roster or coming in as freshmen. 

They are particularly impressed with Travis Howard from Miami Krop, who redshirted in 2008, and could get his first action under fire. Another Florida kid who redshirted this year is Orhian Johnson, a QB/Safety in high school that could get a shot at the corner in 2009. Devon Torrence will be another returning player who could see the field a lot in 2009, as long as the Houston Astros don't lure him away from Columbus with a lucrative baseball contract. Incoming freshman Corey Brown has the talent to play right away...if the offensive coaches don't steal him away to play wide receiver. And Andre Amos has spent three years in the program as a perennial prospect who can't seem to stay injury-free long enough to contribute. If he can go, it would allow the coaches time to develop the kids under less pressure. 

Who's Staying?

Kurt Coleman

Thank goodness. It's important that Coleman is returning if only because the Bucks will be breaking in new cornerbacks in 2009, and desperately need some experience in the defensive backfield. Coleman is the stronger of the two starting safeties for the Buckeyes, and he'll be the anchor back there for an extremely young group. Thank, Kurt. This helps.

Ray Small

Small will return in 2009 to finish what has been a tantalizing but as yet unsatisfying OSU career. His productivity at wide receiver has never quite been able to match his talent, and he has often been on the verge of having his name permanently etched above the door to Jim Tressel's doghouse.  A more mature, focused Ray Small would be a huge boost for the 2009 Bucks. Let's hope he can put it together.

Recruiting Review

The Buckeyes took the last-minute suspense out of their football recruiting for 2009 by having most of their recruits verbally committed by the time the football season began in September. OSU has 24 commitments to this point, including 14 from the state of Ohio. The class is loaded with talent, and currently ranked in the top five in the country.

But Coach Tressel and his staff are still in on a couple of high-profile national recruits, including one from (Cleveland) Glenville, and he hopes to add at least two more players to that list by the time national letter-of-intent day rolls around in early February. With the announcement Tuesday that standout Arizona defensive tackle
Corey Adams has decided to stay home and play for the ASU Sun Devils over the Buckeyes, the list of recruits that could potentially join the existing OSU class dwindled to about four names.

Most prominent on that list is Glenville offensive tackle
Marcus Hall, who was long thought to be a lock for Ohio State, but is playing it cagey right to the finish line. After a recent visit to Michigan, Hall surprised OSU fans by naming the Wolverines as his new leader. Illinois may still be in the running as well, but Hall may like the look of the depth chart in Ann Arbor better than the one he sees in Columbus or Champaign. Maybe Coach Ginn can still talk some sense to the young man.

Memphis wide receiver
Marlon Brown dazzled the scouts in the recent Army All-American game, and satisfactorily answered any questions teams may have had about his speed with a 70-yard touchdown reception. The Buckeyes are competing with Georgia, Florida and Tennessee however, and lately it looks like it might be tough to bring him north into snow country.

It's tough to recruit a stud quarterback one year behind Terrelle Pryor, because early playing time is often the promise that seals the deal, but the OSU coaches saw an opportunity to get in on the recruiting of Virginia's
Tajh Boyd after coaching changes at West Virginia and then Tennessee caused Boyd to twice rethink his earlier commitments. He was said to be down to OSU and Oregon as his final two options, but a late trip to Clemson may be in the offing now. Boyd is a Troy Smith clone, and was named the MVP Of the Army A-A Game after throwing for three TD's. If he goes elsewhere, the Bucks will probably wait till 2010 to bring in another QB.

Darren Myles from Atlanta is also still on the OSU radar, with LSU and Alabama providing the competition.

You can get more information on the 2009 OSU recruiting class at and at

Loose Leaves

Speaking of recruiting, OSU Linebackers Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator
Luke Fickell was approached by officials at Notre Dame about joining the Irish coaching staff. Fickell reportedly interviewed and was offered the position, but accoding to the PD's Doug Lesmerises, turned the job down. Fickell is very well thought of by the OSU people and is seen as possible future Head Coach material, whether at OSU or elsewhere. He is also one of the best recruiters on the OSU staff. Glad he'll be sticking around.

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