Updated Sat, Jan 19, 2013 4:50 pm
Walter Offutt has been there, done that. He’s seen it all. He’s played in one of the toughest conferences in what is known as the mecca of high school basketball, the state of Indiana. He’s been on several different Ohio college basketball teams.
He knows the game of basketball.
Offutt isn’t the leading scorer for the Ohio Bobcats. He doesn’t grab the most rebounds or create the most turnovers, but he’s second on the team in minutes played. Only standout point guard D.J. Cooper has tallied more minutes and even that by only eight minutes this season.
His statistics aren’t eye-popping. He’ll have some 19-point games against teams like Northern Illinois, but he’ll also have some 4-point outings like against Western Michigan a week ago.
What separates the 6-foot-4 guard from the others, though? Why does he play the second most minutes on the team?
“My overall impact on the game,” Offutt responded. “Some nights I don't score a lot, but I can help the team by doing defensive plays and doing stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet.”
The box scores never indicate the little things like taking charges, pass breakups or diving for loose balls. Against the Broncos, Offutt’s stat line didn’t stand out: four points, five rebounds, 2-of-6 shooting, 0-of-3 from beyond the arc and three turnovers.
Although Offutt didn’t shoot the lights out that night, he did manage to fill a role in the key turning point of the 61-59 ball game.
With time slowly ticking away, the Bobcats held onto a slim 60-55 lead. Western Michigan guard David Brown drove past his defender where he was met by Offutt in the paint. Brown, well aware of his surroundings, zipped a pass to Shayne Whittington for the easy bucket. The ref called a foul on the shot and Bronco fans were ecstatic at the three-point play possibility. Western Michigan had a chance to narrow the Ohio lead to two.
That’s when Offutt put his stamp on the game.
The Bronco faithful were quickly silenced when they discovered that the ref didn’t blow his whistle on the shot attempt, but rather Brown had been called for a player-control foul with none other than Offutt taking the charge. Pumping his fist, Offutt stood up and walked down the court to finish the game and help seal the Bobcat victory.
Taking charges is a quality of his game that has evolved ever since he was growing up in the Warren Central High School basketball program.
“I think my high school coach installed a personality to play hard every possession,” Offutt said. “I think that over the past two years, I think I've grown into a role, you know, doing those toughness plays that my team needs.”
High school wasn’t an easy test for Offutt. Warren Central plays in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, where there have been six different teams to win Indiana state titles in basketball.
Three of those came from Lawrence North, where former Ohio State duo Michael Conley, Jr. and Greg Oden once attended school. NBA guard Eric Gordon also reigned as Indiana’s Mr. Basketball while playing for North Central.
“I think it really got me ready for college. It got me ready for playing against higher competition,” Offutt said. “We had a lot of guys that really played at a high level there. It took scouting to another level, so I think it prepared me for college.”
His first year of college basketball wasn’t going to be an easy test either, as Offutt grew to learn. He chose to attend Ohio State, coming to Columbus in a class that included B.J. Mullens and William Buford.
Offutt played with other defensive specialists like David Lighty. He also saw the offensive elites such as the second pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Evan Turner. He played on the court with these guys, boosting his knowledge of the game day-by-day.
“(I developed an) ability to talk and communicate out there,” Offutt said. “I learned a lot from (Lighty) in my ability just to see things on the court that maybe most guys don't see all the time as far as being a help defender and being the fifth defender on some plays.”
Offutt played solid minutes his first season off the bench with Ohio State. With Lighty injured for most of the season, his role stepped up. Offutt ended up playing in 21 games in the 2008-09 season, not relied on for his scoring but for his hard work off the ball.
Despite his talents growing as a freshman, Offutt chose to transfer in the early part of his sophomore season, looking at New Mexico and Wright State. Offutt chose Wright State, but changed his mind when head coach Brad Brownwell departed for Clemson.
He had a tough choice to make. Does he try to walk on to another Big Ten team near his hometown at Indiana University or does he transfer to Ohio University where his former assistant coach John Groce had recently taken the job?
Offutt took the latter.
He sat out the remainder of his sophomore year and the year following, but it was well worth the wait. His first year back on the hardwood, Offutt averaged 12.4 points and 3.6 rebounds for the 29-8 Bobcats.
After being eliminated in the first round by Siena in the 2009 March Madness with Ohio State, Offutt ensured the same didn’t happen with his Ohio team.
He played one minute against Michigan in the 2008-09 season. The caliber of the Michigan team his freshman year wasn’t even close to matching the team the Bobcats were to face in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The second time around, Offutt was a little more of a producer than viewer. He played in 28 minutes, scoring 11 of the team’s 65 points. The Bobcats completed the improbable upset over fourth seed Michigan, 65-60, advancing to the second round where they’d play South Florida.
The Bulls, although ranked as a 12th seed, wouldn’t be an easy matchup for Ohio. With athleticism through the roof, South Florida came into the second round ready to test the Bobcats. This is the game where Offutt showed the many facets of his game, particularly on the scoring end.
Offutt will always be known for his hard-nosed defense and all-around play. On that night he was an integral part in helping Ohio win their second game of the NCAA Tournament. The guard finished with 21 points, along with four steals on the defensive side.
He had helped Ohio University make a name for itself by reaching the Sweet Sixteen of March Madness. Their next opponent? The powerhouse team of college basketball in 2011, the North Carolina Tar Heels. A team that featured four 2012 first round draft picks on its roster.
In every aspect of the game, the Bobcats were outmatched. North Carolina featured 7-foot center Tyler Zeller and 6-foot-11 power forward John Henson. The tallest man to play for Ohio in St. Louis that night was Ivo Baltic, who stands at 6-foot-9. The Tar Heels’ small forward Harrison Barnes was only an inch shorter than Baltic. There was no doubt heading into the game that North Carolina was going to dominate the boards.
Three players finished the game with 10-plus rebounds for the Tar Heels. Zeller finished with 22 boards. The Bobcats were outrebounded 56-26, but they were still in the game. When the final buzzer sounded in the Edward Jones Dome the two teams were locked in a tie game at 63. The Bobcats pushed the mighty Tar Heels into overtime in front of a stunned crowd at the Edward Jones Dome. The future NBA players pulled away from the Bobcats who eventually lost by eight in overtime.
Despite fouling out, Offutt finished the game with 26 points, four rebounds and two assists. He was 10-of-18 from the field and a staggering 6-of-10 from three. In 40 minutes, Offutt had kept Ohio in the game not with his defense but with his offensive explosion, thus earning the respect of everyone who witnessed his performance. He was later named to the NCAA Midwest Region All-Tournament Team.
How incredible was Offutt’s play and Ohio’s ability to stick with the Tar Heels? In North Carolina’s 38 games, only seven opposing players managed to score 26 or more points against them. Offutt was one of them. The Tar Heels went from Nov. 11 to March 18 without playing an overtime game. Ohio was the first team to send them into overtime.
It was a career game for Offutt. It was one of the greatest runs in Ohio history. From a team standpoint, Offutt thinks this year’s squad is better.
“We're an older team. We've been there before and we've done it. We have a lot of offensive weapons,” Offutt said. “The teams I've been through in the past, with Ohio State, playing with them guys. A lot of offensive weapons and a lot of people can score the ball and that makes a team dangerous when you can do that. We've got guys here that can score.”
Having several players that can score can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Selfishness is always an issue when a team is loaded with scorers. Ohio doesn’t have that problem, though. The Bobcats are currently first in the nation with 19.6 assists a game.
Defense often leads to offense. That’s the case for Ohio in their victories. They force 20.8 turnovers a game when they win, 13.6 when they lose. How does that correlate to their offense? Ohio scores 27.3 points off turnovers when they win and only 14.2 points in losses.
That all starts with the guard play, which leads back to Offutt’s leadership on defense.
“I go out there and play hard,” Offutt said while being pestered by Baltic. “Sometimes my teammates feed off it and try to win the game.”
The Bobcats have won three straight games in the conference and have been averaging 80.5 points and 27.75 points off turnovers in the month of January. Their team is improving at the right time.
“We've just got to continue to come together each game,” Offutt said. “Play hard like coach has been stating every game and as long as we do that, the sky is the limit.”
Offutt looks to continue his successful season against Toledo Saturday night, as he’ll open up guarding the Mid-American Conference’s scoring leader, Rian Pearson.
Pearson’s athleticism will test the Bobcats, but Offutt keeps the game plan simple.
“If you keep him out of the paint, keep him from rebounding the ball and keep him from getting to the free throw line, we have a good chance to winning the game, which is obviously the point of coming out (Saturday),” Offutt said.
It’ll be a difficult task, but Offutt believes the Bobcats will be able to contain the athletic guard. And when Offutt says something, it’s likely to be true because he’s seen players like Pearson in his day. He’s seen it all.
He’s been there. He’s done that.