By all accounts, the Ohio State men’s basketball program had a great season last year, finishing up with another Final Four and a Big Ten championship. But coach Thad Matta doesn’t beat around the bush in telling his players they can’t simply show back up and expect that again.
The Buckeyes open their season Friday in the Carrier Classic against Marquette on the USS Yorktown.
Thad Matta joined 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland with The Bull and the Fox to discuss playing the season-opener on a carrier, if the team practiced outdoors, having only one senior, replacing Jared Sullinger, the Big Ten Conference, standout player Aaron Craft and the potential for a hangover following a solid 2011-12 season.
What do you think it’s going to be like opening the season on an aircraft carrier against Marquette?:
“I have no idea, but I think this: When we were approached for the game, I’ve always viewed college as an opportunity to build experiences for your young men. I think, from the standpoint of we’re going to walk out of this game on Friday night and our players are going to have a memory they can take with them for a lifetime. In terms of the conditions being outside, that sort of thing, I don’t know what to expect. I’m banking on the fact that our opponent is going to be outside, too.”
Have you guys practiced outside?:
“We talked about it and I actually looked at a couple places to do that, but I couldn’t find anything where I felt secure enough that no one would get injured. From the standpoint of the setup of the game … you’re going to have bleachers surrounding the court. They’ve got wind visors or wind protectors … up. One day we did open the doors in the gym. I don’t know if that helped or not.”
You have only one senior, but I guess that’s college basketball these days. That’s a shame, isn’t it?:
“It is. And the ironic part is this is our second straight season with only one senior. … It’s amazing how the dynamics have changed. It puts a lot of heat on your young players getting ready as quickly as they can. It is what it is. As a coach, you’re constantly pushing your guys and motivating them to get as ready as they can in the offseason.”
How do you replace a guy like Jared Sullinger?:
“You can’t replace a guy like Jared, from the standpoint that I think he’s one of the best that I’ve ever coached. … He had a great understanding of the game of basketball. … I don’t know if we’re going to have 18 and 10, but you’re hoping, collectively, you can get that night-in and night-out.”
On the state of Big Ten basketball:
“As I’ve always said, and this is Year 9 for me at Ohio State now, I don’t start thinking about the Big Ten until Christmas, because I’m trying to keep my sanity the best that I can. I know this, and I don’t know about the other teams, but we have a long way to go before we get into Big Ten play. … We’ve got to make strides to get better. We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
How important is Aaron Craft to this team’s success?:
“He’s vitally important, I think from the standpoint that you look at a guy like Aaron, and who he is as a person. He’s been in this program for two years and he’s won 65 games and he’s won two Big Ten championships. He has a great understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level and in this program. As a coach, I don’t know if I’ve had too many that you just have that feel about him that you want him on the floor, you want him leading your basketball team.”
You guys had a great season last year. Is there a chance for a hangover or is that gone?:
“No, it’s not gone. I think that’s one of the things that, the last time we went to the Final Four, in ’07, it was maybe one of the most challenging years I’ve had as a coach. It’s something that’s discussed daily with our players, in terms of, there’s no guarantees this year. You have to go out, you have to produce, you have to be a better player, you have to be tougher and you have to have a better understanding of the game of basketball.”