With the drafting of Jon Diebler by the Portland Trailblazers in last Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Buckeyes added one more of their products to the professional ranks. Diebler joins former Buckeye Greg Oden on Portland’s roster, although it remains to be seen if the two will ever fulfill the opportunity to play together that was not afforded in college due to Oden’s departure for the NBA after his freshman season. Oden’s injury troubles since joining the NBA are well known for both their regularity and severity, and those following his career are now mostly hoping just to see him get some minutes on the floor, as the prospect of making a big impact on the league seems to be dwindling. It would be a welcome sight to see Oden running the floor again, demonstrating the defense and shot-blocking that were his signature in college and feeding the ball out of the post to Diebler on the perimeter, but before these two young players that contributed so much to Thad’s efforts at building the Ohio State program can hit the hardwood together, Oden must overcome the initial hurdle of getting healthy.
In a way, Oden ushered in a different kind of era for Ohio State basketball. Although he has struggled in the NBA, Oden had a stellar freshman year at Ohio State, earning him the #1 overall pick in the subsequent draft. Beginning with that pick in 2007, Ohio State has had a player taken in the first round of the draft each year until this year, when Diebler was taken in the middle of the second round. Mike Conley and Daequan Cook joined Oden in 2007 at the #4 and #21 spots, respectively, 2008 featured Kosta Koufos going #23, 2009 saw B.J. Mullens selected #24, and last year Evan Turner was taken with the #2 pick. Prior to Oden’s class, Buckeyes appearing in the draft were few and far between, and selections of Ohio State players were always in the second round when they occurred. Even Michael Redd, who went on to have an All-Star caliber season in the NBA, and who remains a member of the Milwaukee Bucks to this day, was not selected until #43 in 2000.
Growing up as an earnest NBA fan without significant interest in college basketball, and even less familiarity with Ohio State basketball, the trend of Ohio State players not appearing in the draft resulted in thinking almost exclusively of Jim Jackson when thinking of Ohio State players. The players that made it to the NBA were the only Ohio State players on the radar screen, and throughout the 90′s the selection was pretty limited. Lucas and Havlicek were long since out of the league, and even quality players like Clark Kellogg and Dennis Hopson were mostly out of the NBA by the time a personal interest in basketball really took hold. If asked to name the best former Ohio State basketball player that could be brought to mind, the answer would certainly have been Jim Jackson. JJ is a fine choice in response to that question, but he became the default choice as well.
Recognition of this fact leads to consideration of what a young NBA fan might think these days. Jackson has retired from the league, but he has been replaced by a variety of players in different positions within the NBA now. Evan Turner and Mike Conley in particular are making a mark starting for their clubs, both of which are playoff-caliber teams (Philadelphia for Turner and Memphis for Conley). When a new NBA fan is asked who they think of when given the prompt of “Ohio State player,” is it Turner that comes to mind? Conley? For me, it’s actually Oden, but given his lack of “face time” thus far on the NBA courts, I expect that a fan focused on the NBA and less on the college game would be naming Turner or Conley, as they wouldn’t have seen Oden and appreciated how dominant he was on the college level.
The point is that with each passing year Ohio State is sending players to the NBA that fans of the professional game will naturally start to associate with Ohio State. The number of choices continues to grow, and chances are that in the 2012 draft Jared Sullinger will be yet another top-5 pick out of Columbus. Will one player become “the new Jim Jackson” by rising to the top as the best NBA player who is a former Buckeye, or will there be enough Ohio State representatives playing important roles on their teams that such associations are no longer present? For as long as Thad is at the helm bringing in recruiting class after recruiting class with top prospects, the latter scenario seems to be the more likely.