Published Thu, Nov 8, 2012 8:42 am Dateline
Unpack the glass slippers, give ‘em a good dusting and slip ‘em on once again. Ohio’s instructions for this season are simple. The ingredients are all in the crucible with a few extra catalysts and the gas is on waiting for a spark. Jim Christian holds the lighter with the power to set this season aflame, melting all the materials together in a slow burn to produce a reaction almost as beautiful or perhaps even more than last year’s at season’s end.
Christian, head coach of Ohio men’s basketball, has the extraordinary task of taking over a team almost exactly the same as last season on paper. The Bobcats captured lightning in a bottle with last season’s unexpected trip to the Sweet Sixteen, capped by an overtime thriller against top-seed North Carolina, which ended in defeat.
Christian’s task is so unusual in the fact that not many a successful program returns so many players—11 in Ohio’s case, including all five starters. Christian is one of the few new pieces and his role is ever important, inheriting a fast-rising program in the midst of its newfound success.
Fans have seen this Ohio team and how they operate, but may not have caught on until late in the season, or when America’s eyes fell on St. Louis in March to check out the mid-major-that-could clawing away at a perennial powerhouse.
Ohio still has a team chock full of role players as former head coach John Groce indicated before last season. However, each of the Bobcats now has a more defined role because of the chemistry developed over time.
Ohio’s backcourt features its most prolific players, D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. The guards face the challenge of overcoming last year’s three-point plague. The Bobcats, a lot of the time, lived and died by the three. It began to catch up with them toward the middle of the season when they suffered a horrific shooting drought (11.5 percent from three against Robert Morris, 20 percent against Bowling Green, etc.) in which the ‘Cats went 1-3.
This season calls for a more dynamic backcourt as an effort to prevent such stretches. The same players with one new body have the task of doing just that.
D.J. Cooper, Senior, 6’0”
Everybody who’s anybody at Ohio University knows D.J. Cooper, the man, the point guard, the star. He is the player through which the offense runs, popping up on award watch list after watch list.
With vision unlike any other, Cooper led the Bobcats in assists last season, averaging 5.7 per game. However, Cooper is different in that he’s not just a facilitator. He has an all-around game that makes coaches drool. Cooper was the Bobcats leading scorer last season with nearly 15 points per game. Ohio finished last season tops in the Mid-American Conference in steals and turnover margin, Cooper leading the way with more than two steals per game.
That’s not to say Cooper is above improvement. One area he struggles with that could be easily rectified is the sheer number of shots he takes. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the team last season with almost five shots more per contest than the player with the second most shot attempts. He was third last in field goal percentage. He’s polarizing in that he’ll have everyone in the gym behind him when he drops a feathery three-pointer from five feet behind the arc, just to have fans at his throat minutes later when he’s missed three straight of the same shot.
There’s no doubting what Cooper’s role is this season. He’s not just a leader in the stat book, but also a leader in the locker room. As a senior earning national attention, he’s got the chance to go out with a bang and have scouts in polo shirts and golf pants knocking on his door.
Walter Offutt, Redshirt Senior, 6’4”
Offutt, close behind Cooper in the aforementioned statistical categories, is surely the emotional leader of this Ohio team. “The Wolf,” as he self-identifies, brings the heart and soul to the Bobcats, the tough-as-nails attitude. Offutt averaged 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals a season ago. He practically did it all.
One of Offutt’s best skills that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is his hustle. The gritty guard shows it particularly on defense, sticking to a man, taking charges, rushing the glass and jumping higher than players a head taller than him to snatch rebounds. He attacks the basket with relentlessness second to none.
Despite that motor, however, Offutt sometimes is not selfish enough. His game demands attention, but he doesn’t. If Offutt were to be more aggressive getting shot opportunities, it could open up a new dimension to Ohio’s offense. He has the ability to score 20 or more night in and night out.
Nick Kellogg, Junior, 6’3”
Kellogg is the Bobcats’ silent assassin, the guy opponents somehow manage to forget about. Although fairly one-dimensional as an offensive player, Kellogg started to show more ability to attack the basket toward the end of the season.
At six feet three inches tall, if Kellogg could add the drive to his game, he’d be lethal. Folks know he can shoot the three-ball. He, along with most of Ohio’s players, is stellar on defense and contributes what he can to the rebounding game. The extra dimension on offense would keep teams on their heels. It doesn’t benefit Ohio that other teams can assume a jump shot is coming with the ball in Kellogg’s hands.
How the Bobcats are able to counteract that is with the drive-and-kick. Although Kellogg doesn’t do much in the ways of slashing to the basket, Offutt and Cooper have no problem doing so, leaving Kellogg open in the corners and on the wings for a quick trey. With the highest three-point percentage on the team last season—42.7 percent—it’s no surprise why that method is a regular option.
Stevie Taylor, Sophomore, 5’10”
Taylor, however cliché, is the sparkplug off the bench in Ohio’s backcourt known for his feisty defense and ability to rile up a crowd.
He plays to his size very well, moving into packs of bodies and contorting to get around opposing players. Last season, his height was hardly a factor, save a few run-ins with Akron’s seven-footer, Zeke Marshall.
Taylor has the ability to drop several points in short amounts of time and is extremely pesky on defense, like the smallest of gnats buzzing in your ear. However, he’s inconsistent on offense, which can spill over into his defense. He carries a lot of emotion and was caught committing angry fouls during the valleys of his performance last season. Controlling his game will do him a lot of good.
Groce used an interesting look several times last season with Cooper and Taylor on the floor at the same time. Look to see if Christian does the same.
Ricardo Johnson, Junior, 6’5”
Johnson is the ultimate role guy, in the game to play tough defense, snag rebounds and drop a few points. Although not spectacular in any one area, Johnson does a little bit here and a little bit there to have solid impact on a game. He also wins the award for best hair on Ohio.
Travis Wilkins, Junior, 6’4”
He’s been called Tommy Freeman in disguise by a few fans after the Mercyhurst game when folks saw him planted on the three-point line. But, as mentioned, Ohio relied heavily on outside shooting last season and Wilkins could be a nice ingredient to add to the mix.
David McKinley, Senior, 5’10”
He is most certainly the fan-favorite of Ohio’s walk-ons. Always certain to draw rousing applause, McKinley provides energy to the Convocation Center whether he’s in the game or not.
Nick Goff, Redshirt Junior, 6’2”
The next walk-on three-point sensation, Goff is perhaps better known for his beard than his playing time with Ohio.
Javarez Willis, Junior, 6’0”
A transfer from Texas Tech University, Willis will not play this season, but will certainly have an impact on the team’s future sans D.J. Cooper.