Updated Sun, Mar 25, 2012 5:14 pm
Editor's note: This is a five-part column designed to take Bobcat fans through the five stages of loss, as described by plenty of psychology textbooks.
This is where you, as Ohio fans, are 23 flavors of fortunate. You don’t really have to accept Friday night’s loss.
At least not to the extent that most teams have to. I mean, any bracket-toting Bobcat knows they must come to terms with Ohio not being in the Elite Eight, but the element of finality that generally haunts tournament losers is far less potent with this team. Everybody is coming back. No one on the roster is lost to graduation.
John Groce has his initial recruiting class back. He told me he feels fortunate to have the same crew back and hopes the tourney run will “whet their appetite” for another one next season. Ivo Baltic even cracked a smile in the locker room after the game as he mentioned that this was the first team he has been a part of that after the last game of the season has to say goodbye to no one. With no perceivable goodbyes after the best season in Bobcat history, here are the “hellos” that will greet Ohio fans at the Convocation Center late next fall.
Dj Cooper- It’s hard to think of anything more wonderful than nonchalantly returning the greatest player in your program’s history. I mean we are talking one more year of a walking, breathing, and dribbling record book. Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl better start campaigning now. He’ll have that campus on a string sitting on a rainbow. Not to mention he will be in the gym refining his game all summer. I think Ohio fans should send the Cousy award panel 10,000 fruit baskets after what Cooper accomplished this postseason.
Walt Offutt- As difficult as it is to parallel returning Cooper, Offutt’s second season in green may surpass it. He was the fiber of the Bobcats being all year as the clear locker room leader, and he emerged as a mega-star in the NCAA tournament. It was somewhere between him standing over Tyler Zeller, glaring forcefully into his soul and him making a surefire top-10 NBA draft pick shoot his way into a surefire locker room scolding that I realized Offutt is going to be as huge as anyone for Ohio next year.
Nick Kellogg- This guy would be a felon’s best friend. Not only because of his polished disposition but because of how he can bail out the Bobcats with timely threes. He is a contemporary medicine man, erasing the ills of Ohio’s offense with fearless shots. They say when someone is shooting well their jump shot is “wet.” If that’s the case, Kellogg was downright soggy during the NCAA tournament. His defenders were pruning. If this carries over to next year, they better start building a dam along the Hocking River.
Ivo Baltic, Reggie Keely, and Jon Smith- The undersized, underfed, and underdog frontcourt fought all year to put Ohio in position to make history. They were consistently outsized. They were constantly undersold. They were rarely outclassed. Next season, Ohio fans will get Ivo Baltic’s merry-go-round moves in the low post as well as his emerging mid-range jump shot. They might get an even stronger, tougher Reggie Keely. And teams might begin running their offensive sets as far away from the length and hustle of John Smith as possible.
TJ Hall, Ricardo Johnson, and Stevie Taylor- Ohio’s bench brigade was truly incredible. Cinderella teams have no business playing as many guys game in and game out as Ohio did. Ricardo Johnson was one of the best defenders in the MAC with a bad back. Every chiropractic minute he played for the ‘Cats was valiant. T.J. Hall may have been concussed for the last three weeks of the season - forgetting his immense offensive perils and making a national name for himself by hitting clutch three-pointers. Stevie Taylor gained invaluable tournament experience with as good of a mentor (Cooper) as he could get in his ear the whole time.
So, there you have it Bobcat fans. That’s what is playing out at the Convo next season. Ohio is going to be on the national radar, and they are going to have a very real opportunity to be back in the Sweet 16 a year from now. If you’re going to be accepting anything, accept that.
The rest of the series: