COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a season that disappointed – and an off-season that saw a number of unexpected changes to the Ohio State roster – Buckeyes center Trevor Thompson isn’t happy with where things stand. A 21-14 record – and a second-round bounce from the NIT – leaves no doubt that the lofty expectations that come with donning the scarlet and gray weren’t met by last season’s team.
“The previous guys that have played for this program, they worked too hard and they put too much into it – too much dedication – they built this program,” Thompson said of not reaching expectations in 2015-2016. “It’s disrespectful when we don’t hold par to what they’ve done. It’s not acceptable what happened last year.”
As a redshirt sophomore, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Thompson had a decent season. He scored 6.5 points and pulled down just over five rebounds per contest while splitting minutes with now-departed freshman Daniel Giddens, who transferred to Alabama in the flurry of freshmen departures throughout April and May. With a new freshman class arriving on campus, Thompson and the veteran leadership for Ohio State believe they know how to right the ship, to restart what some view as a stalled program.
“The biggest thing is accountability,” Thompson said Wednesday in the media room underneath the Value City Arena. “Holding everybody to a high standard, regardless of class, regardless of who it is. Everybody’s held to the same standard. Everybody does the right thing, that’s the biggest thing, on and off the court. Just going to class on time, doing your work on time, it may seem like a small thing but small things add up.”
Two of the players who helped build that legacy, one under Thad Matta and one from the 1990s heydays of Ohio State basketball, have returned to Columbus and will play an integral role in helping return the Buckeyes to form. Greg Oden, the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, is now helping out Matta as a team manager. Long-time NBA coach Chris Jent, a key player on the 1991 and 1992 Buckeyes, has assumed the role vacated by Matta’s right-hand man, Jeff Boals, who is now the head coach at Stony Brook. As a fellow center, Oden’s help could be vital for Thompson’s development.
“G.O has helped me a lot,” Thompson said. “Since I got here, he’s been just someone that I’ve worked out with, someone that’s really pushed me. I talk to him every now and then, he’ll be in the weight room when we lift. He tries to do anything (he can). I think that speaks volumes for the culture. He left here in 2007 and he’s still coming back here. The culture of Ohio State basketball is definitely rich, and it’s something I’m glad and blessed to be a part of.”
Letting down the culture, letting down the players who Thompson said built the Buckeyes program? That’s not something he’s taking lightly, and he says that attitude is beginning to permeate through Thad Matta’s team.
“It’s definitely resonated with everybody, everybody is hungry. Everybody is working hard. Everybody is ready. We all feel like we, somewhat, let down the old guys in the program. I feel like that, personally. Knowing the previous players that were before me, knowing what they’ve done – the Elite Eights, the Final Fours – stuff like that? Not reaching that potential just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”
For Thompson, who transferred to Ohio State prior to the 2014-15 season from Virginia Tech, it goes deeper than just the superficial “want” to win. It’s a surreal life that he’s living and one that he wants to make sure isn’t fleeting. He took a look at the NBA draft this offseason and said the experience helped him see how much more work has to be done in Columbus, not just for himself, but as a team.
“It just gave me perspective,” Thompson said. “How much work it takes, how much work is necessary. I knew going into it, my goal was getting better. To learn the process, learn the work that you have to put in. I definitely feel like going through all that stuff has lit a fire in me, it’s made me realize how much work you need to put in.”
Now that he’s back in Columbus, Thompson says his new goal is to help apply what he learned in a team setting.
“It’s been good, smooth process,” he said of returning to the Buckeyes. “We’ve just been working every day, getting better, building team chemistry. My biggest thing is just coming back, with the things I’ve learned, is trying to apply it to myself and trying to apply it to the team. Being more vocal, there’s little tricks I’ve learned trying to apply it, trying to tell the young guys so they’ve got a little head start.”
While it’s the little things that add up to cause big problems, sometimes it takes taking a step back and seeing the big picture that is necessary to get things back to where they belong.
“Ohio State is kind of like a dream school,” Thompson said. “Everytime I walk in this gym, I kind of just get goosebumps. I look up in the rafters, I look up in the stands, and I’m just like ‘dang it’s crazy that I’m here.’ I don’t take me being here for granted at all. I definitely knew Ohio State’s history of winning, the players that have come from here. It’s definitely a rich basketball school, so, it’s definitely a blessing to be here.”
To get back to that rich tradition, Thompson says, it’s going to be one day at a time of putting in the work that is required to be great.
“Every day. Every day. It’s just chipping away every single day,” he added. “Just making sure that we rebuild the culture, that’s the biggest thing, getting back to Ohio State basketball.”