To Kalen Etzler, it was a bit like Déjà vu.
He watched as Bowen Hardman, a three-star 2022 capturing guard from Cincinnati, pulled the set off and made an early commitment to Ohio State on Might 13. Precisely 366 days earlier than, Etzler had accomplished the identical, pledging to play for the Buckeyes although he was 18 months away from even having the ability to signal a Nationwide Letter of Intent on the time.
“I believed that was slightly humorous,” Etzler informed Eleven Warriors. “As a result of I see lots of myself in him, although our builds actually aren’t the identical. Character-wise, I can see lots of myself in him.”
The choice didn’t come out of the blue to Etzler, who had taken an unofficial go to to Ohio State similtaneously Hardman a few months prior. On the time, Etzler – a three-star 2021 power forward from Convoy – requested Hardman when he was committing to Ohio State. He anticipated Hardman to only snicker it off or give a, “We’ll see,” kind of reply. As a substitute, Hardman informed him he simply has to speak to his mother first earlier than making the decision.
So whereas Hardman’s dedication was anticipated by some for some time, when it occurred, it particularly mattered for quite a few causes.
- He grew to become Ohio State’s first 2022 dedication in what’s anticipated to be a bigger class that would embody as many as 4 gamers.
- He has spectacular contact on his shot, his recreation will broaden and already goes past simply catching and capturing.
- He’s an Ohioan.
The third level is straightforward, however it issues. Chris Holtmann and his teaching employees have made an intentional effort to go after the highest prospects from Ohio in each the 2021 and 2022 cycles, they usually’ve had success doing so.
Hardman grew to become Ohio State’s third dedication in a row from an in-state prospect, harkening again to Holtmann’s message in his first public feedback since changing into the workforce’s head coach in 2017.
“This area is an amazing space for gifted, good and difficult gamers,” Holtmann mentioned in his introductory press conference. “I’ve recruited Ohio for over 20 years, and it has excellent gamers and coaches. Among the absolute best within the nation. It is going to be paramount to our success. There is no query. We will work extraordinarily onerous to shut our borders and dominate the state of Ohio in recruiting. It is going to be an on a regular basis focus for us.”
To this point, Holtmann’s preliminary class in 2017 has been his solely class with a number of Ohioans (Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Younger).
In 2018, the Buckeyes signed Justin Ahrens out of Versailles. Within the 2019 class, the Buckeyes added Cleveland native Alonzo Gaffney, however misplaced out on Jeremiah Francis – whose profession has taken an unlucky hit as a result of accidents – to North Carolina. They didn’t supply any Ohioans in a weaker-than-usual in-state crop of 2020 prospects, although they got here shut with Brush’s John Hugley.
However with Ohio containing no scarcity of gifted 2021 and 2022 recruits, they’re doing their finest to capitalize on these two courses.
To this point, the Buckeyes have three in-state commits for these courses: four-star combo guard Meechie Johnson (No. 84 general in 2021), Etzler (No. 136 general in 2021) and Hardman (No. 89 general in 2022). This, they hope, is just the start.
“Ohio State mentioned they need lots of these high Ohio guys enjoying for them, they usually’re getting them left and proper,” Hardman mentioned. “We’re all going to have to return collectively and exit and have enjoyable and win video games for them.”
Malaki Branham, who was raised in Columbus earlier than transferring to Akron to attend St. Vincent-St. Mary, has been the workforce’s high 2021 goal for over a 12 months. A close to five-star prospect recognized for his slashing skill, he’s ranked No. 25 general and is the top-rated native Ohioan within the cycle. The 6-foot-Four combo guard is probably going not a one-and-done participant, however he may be a high-impact, multi-year participant on the faculty degree with NBA potential.
Branham didn’t develop up an Ohio State fan, however along with his native ties, Holtmann has offered him on enjoying in Columbus on the subsequent degree ever since extending a suggestion in Might 2019.
“Principally that is what he was saying. Saying I ought to keep dwelling, play for the hometown,” Branham mentioned last year.
Throughout Ohio State’s 2019-20 season, Branham took a number of visits, together with one the place he was in attendance with each Etzler and Johnson and fellow 2021 goal Kendall Brown. The Buckeyes are battling Alabama, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Xavier and others who stay chasing him.
Etzler, whereas he says he’s not a pushy recruiter, has made pitches to Branham centered on why he dedicated.
“I attempt to point out to him, the explanation I dedicated to Ohio State, it is a hometown factor,” Etzler mentioned. “I grew up round Ohio State, and as quickly as I bought that provide, it is essentially the most comfy factor to do. I grew up sporting Ohio State on my shirt. Every time I am enjoying basketball, it is most comfy for me once I’m enjoying dwelling video games, you already know. It is form of the identical facet – I will Ohio State and I will play for my dwelling workforce.
“I suppose it is only a comfortability factor with me, and I hope it is the identical for him. It was simple for me to make my resolution, so hopefully he comes round, too.”
Past Branham, who’s the one uncommitted 2021 Ohioan with a suggestion after Cincinnati Moeller middle Logan Duncomb selected Indiana, the Buckeyes are after a bunch of in-state 2022 prospects.
5-star capturing guard Chris Livingston of Western Reserve Academy, four-star middle Shawn Phillips of Dayton Belmont and Richmond Heights small ahead Josiah Harris are a trio of uncommitted Ohio recruits who already maintain Buckeyes affords. Level guards Sean Jones of Gahanna and Paul McMillan of Cincinnati Woodward have grow to be high backcourt targets who don’t but have scholarship affords. Philo’s AJ Clayton and Worthington Christian’s DJ Moore are amongst these value watching, too.
All of them have ready-made bonds both with one another or Ohio State’s present commitments.
Livingston, whereas all indicators level to him professionalizing out of highschool, is tight with Harris. They typically go over to one another’s homes, with Harris calling Livingston certainly one of his finest buddies. Harris has additionally recognized Hardman since fifth or sixth grade.
“I really like his household to demise. They’re wonderful individuals. I’ve performed with him most of my life,” Hardman mentioned. “Particularly for him, he is a giant Ohio child. I’d like to have him as a teammate in an Ohio State uniform, simply because I understand how he runs. I find out about all the things that he does, and he is aware of the identical factor about me, what our strengths and weaknesses are. And I believe you set that on the faculty degree, it will make the workforce 10 occasions simpler to regulate to all people.”
Jones, who has performed on All-Ohio Pink within the Nike EYBL with Hardman prior to now, mentioned he has recognized Harris and performed with him since fourth grade.
Hardman additionally is aware of Phillips, whom he was able to workforce up with on the 17U Wildcats Choose workforce within the Adidas Gauntlet this summer season earlier than the coronavirus pandemic quashed these plans. They took unofficial visits to Ohio State on the similar time within the fall, each selecting up Buckeyes affords on the identical day in October. McMillan naturally is aware of Hardman, too, since he’s a Cincinnati native.
Whereas Sencire Harris – a top-50 general prospect in 2022 – isn’t a high goal at lead guard proper now, he performs at St. Vincent-St. Mary with Branham.
All of them have connections to one another, and all are getting the identical message from Ohio State: Keep dwelling.
“They most positively talked about that,” Harris mentioned. “They assume that this 2022 class in Ohio is simply wonderful. They need to get all of us. They need us to remain in Ohio State.”
Jones mentioned he “in fact” has heard these phrases, too.
“They speak about what Ohio State could be like if the entire state stayed right here and the way good they may very well be,” Jones mentioned.
So, simply how good does he assume the Buckeyes could be if all the highest in-state gamers workforce up in Columbus?
“I believe it may very well be an excellent workforce,” Jones mentioned, “however that is normally onerous to do, to get a bunch of individuals from the identical state to play with one another.”
He’s not incorrect. This isn’t the Ohio State soccer program, which may primarily choose whichever Ohioans it needs and land them at will.
However this system definitely has ample standing throughout the state, because it ought to, and Holtmann already has the Buckeyes off to a powerful begin in each the 2021 and 2022 courses with Etzler, Johnson and Hardman dedicated. Now it’s a matter of attempting so as to add Branham to the 2021 class and one other rising junior or two from Ohio to the 2022 class.
A few of Thad Matta’s finest groups at Ohio State had a wholesome dose of Ohioans on their rosters, together with Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. Holtmann, gazing what he and his employees have recognized as robust in-state 2021 and 2022 courses, hopes to have related success with in-state gamers on his groups.