With March Madness right around the corner and the Buckeyes having such a stellar season on the hardwood, it got us thinking… Who are the top freshmen ever to lace ’em up for the Scarlet and Gray?
Top Five Freshmen Sensations in Ohio State Basketball History
It takes a great deal to be the big man on campus when you’re the youngest on the team. Today we take a look at five of the best freshmen to ever hit the hardwood.
You may notice several notable Buckeyes not on this list. Due to the NCAA rules department, freshmen weren’t allowed to compete at the varsity level until 1972. We can speculate what an 18 year old Jerry Lucas or John Havlicek would have done, but it would just be a guess.
For this list, you had to play as a freshman and put up some impressive numbers. Let’s get to it!
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Herb Williams: Center (1977-1978)
We’re kicking off this list going old school, when disco was king and basketball shorts were borderline obscene. Herb Williams burst onto the scene as a 6’10” center from local Marion Franklin High School. He would start all 27 games as a true freshman.
Williams put together a remarkable season. He was second on the team in scoring averaging 16.7 points per game. However, it was on the boards where Herb Williams made the most noise, averaging 11.4 rebounds per game.
Williams’ freshman season goes somewhat unnoticed as the team finished with a less than impressive 16-11 season and sixth in the Big Ten with no post season appearance.
Herb Williams would finish his four year career at Ohio State with 2,011 points, (team record at the time) 1,111 rebounds (second only to Jerry Lucas) and 328 blocked shots (team record at the time). He would go on to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft and play 18 seasons in the league.
Jimmy Jackson: Guard (1989-1990)
Jimmy Jackson was a freshman at Ohio State the same year I was a freshman in high school about 20 miles south of Columbus. Most kids in America wanted to wear 23 and “Be Like Mike”. Not in the 614… they all wanted jersey number 22.
Ohio State hadn’t been to a Sweet Sixteen since 1980 and basketball was starting to take even more of a backseat in Columbus. That all changed when Jackson arrived on campus in 1989 with a smooth jumper, fresh off a state championship with Macomber High School (Toledo, Ohio).
Jimmy would live up to his McDonald’s All American hype in his first season. He would average 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and shoot nearly 50% from the field per game, as well as lead Ohio State back to the NCAA tournament before running into buzz saw and eventual NCAA Champion UNLV (remember those guys?).
Jackson would earn back-to-back national player of the year awards as a sophomore and junior before being drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. One of the most beloved basketball Buckeyes of all time, Jimmy would have his number 22 retired, forever to hang in the rafters at the Schott.
Greg Oden: Center (2006-2007)
Maybe the most ballyhooed recruit in Ohio State hoops history — Greg Oden, the seven footer from Indianapolis, gave Buckeye fans a wild ride.
Oden would not make his debut in Columbus until early December due to a wrist injury, but when he finally got on the court, he didn’t disappoint. Oden would average 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 block per game.
He would lead Ohio State to the NCAA national championship game against defending champ Florida. In the loss, Oden would score 25 points, 12 rebounds and block 4 shots.
As a freshman, Oden was named First Team All-Big Ten and the conference Defensive Player of the Year. He would also be named to the AP All-American team, the first freshman (along with Kevin Durant) to be voted first team since 1990.
Due to Greg Oden’s size and facial features, that always had him looking deep in thought, the ongoing joke was that he was really a 40 year old man. Oden left for the NBA draft after his freshman season and was selected No. 1 overall.
His NBA career never got off the ground as he was continually plagued with injuries. Turns out, he truly was just an 18 year old kid, trapped in what seemed like 40 year old body that failed him.
Jared Sullinger: Forward (2010-2011)
The story goes that JJ Sullinger (Ohio State 2003-2006) told then head coach, Thad Matta, that he needed to recruit and offer his younger brother a scholarship. Matta replied, “You mean fat Jared?” Upon Jared’s arrival at Ohio State, Matta would often receive a simple text message from JJ… “You’re welcome.”
Jared Sullinger was the real deal and made an impact on a Buckeye team that had lost national player of the year winner Evan Turner to the NBA a year earlier. Sullinger would lead the Buckeyes to a 34-3 record, a Big Ten regular season championship, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a Sweet Sixteen apperance.
During his impressive freshman season, Jared would average 17.2 points to go along with 10.2 rebounds per game. Sullinger would also be named a Consensus 1st Team All-American, National Freshman of the Year, and a Wooden Award Finalist.
Sullinger would do something rare in today’s world of college athletics… forgo millions and stay at Ohio State for a sophomore season, where he would lead the Buckeyes to a Final Four appearance. He was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
D’Angelo Russell: Guard (2014-2015)
In February of 2015, the Columbus Dispatch wrote an article entitled “Russell: OSU’s top freshman?” making an argument that he might be the best freshman of all time at Ohio State. Columnist Bob Baptist might not have been far off.
D’Angelo Russell would go on to have what might be the most impressive freshman season of any Buckeye in history. The numbers were truly attention grabbing. With 19.3 points, 5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, Russell was the complete package. He would also shoot nearly 50% from the field and 41% from the 3 point line.
Russell would be named a Consensus 1st Team All-American, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and finish No. 5 in the Wooden Award voting. He would also take home the Jerry West Award for the nation’s best shooting guard.
Russell would declare for the NBA draft after a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and be picked No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers.
There you have it. Five Buckeyes with outstanding freshman seasons and some of the greatest to ever suit up for the Scarlet and Gray.
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