Smith believes in Buckeyes’ basketball

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The Ohio State University’s exit in the ‘second round’ of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament didn’t sit well with many people in Buckeye Nation.

Whether it was the coaches, players, alumni or fans, the loss to Dayton in Buffalo was tough to swallow.

Rick Smith, who was the last recruit legendary OSU head coach Fred Taylor signed in the mid-70s, firmly believes that much better days are ahead for Thad Matta’s Buckeyes.

That was the crux of the message he gave at Tuesday night’s Ohio State Alumni Club of Belmont County Banquet held at Belmont Hills Country Club.

“It’s Ohio State University,” Smith said. “There’s a saying, ‘we don’t rebuild, we reload’ and I think that’s what we’ll do this winter.”

The Buckeyes lost three key members, including point guard and unquestioned leader Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross, who gave up his final year of eligibility to declare for next month’s NBA Draft.

Smith is hopeful that Craft, who plans on going to medical school, gets the opportunity to play in the NBA. He realizes his shooting deficiency, but his ability to defend is outstanding.

“Thad has said we’ve already made his bad shot as good as we can,” Smith said. “Aaron’s worked really hard and his shooting has gotten better, but if I was running an NBA team, I’d pick him up to beat my point guard’s (rear end) every day in practice. I love his heart, how hard he works, and I think he deserves a legitimate shot to play in the league.”

Ohio State’s offense should certainly improve next season with the combination of an incoming freshman class that’s ranked as high as second nationally by some and Kam Williams becoming eligible after redshirting last winter.

“We have four guys coming and three are five-star recruits, so they’re some of the best guys in the country coming in,” Smith said.

The freshman class includes D’Angelo Russell, Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and David Bell.

Finding production in the frontcourt will be one of the key ingredients for the Buckeyes.

Smith didn’t hold back when talking about 6-11 center Amir Williams, who is often chastised for his effort on both ends of the floor.

The former McDonald’s All-American, who was a regular in the Buckeyes’ lineup, will be pushed for minutes by transfer Anthony Lee, who is eligible immediately in his fifth year after earning his degree at Temple.

“We need the big guy in the middle because Amir Williams doesn’t feel like playing basketball, which just stresses the crap out of me,” Smith said. “I make it to some practices, and at 57 years old, I would like to see if he can take me. I don’t think he has the heart. At 6-11, with the skills he possesses, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be (dominating) people, but he just doesn’t love it. I don’t know that he’ll ever be the player he could or should be.”

Smith believes Williams, who is an adept perimeter shooter, which is something the Buckeyes truly lacked last season, will turn some heads.

“Of the current players, who are there, he’s by far the best shooter on the team,” Smith said. “I know they’re real excited to have him come in there.”

It was also announced during the banquet that St. Clairsville’s Evan Elliott was the recipient of the alumni club’s scholarship. He’s planning on majoring in electrical engineering at OSU in the fall.