PDT Sports Contributor
As the 2013-2014 basketball season came to an unexpected and abrupt end, many Ohio State fans knew that the senior-laden backcourt of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. were going to be tough to replace. However, those losses were compacted when LaQuinton Ross declared for the 2014 NBA Draft and Amedeo Del Valle, a reserve guard, decided to head overseas for pro competition.
Thad Matta did not let those factors slow him down on the recruiting trail as the Buckeyes landed what is arguably considered to be the best recruiting class for Ohio State since the 2010 recruiting campaign as three top-100 prospects will be taking the floor for the Buckeyes during the 2014-2015 season.
First, lets take a look at the members of the 2014 class. The class, which accumulated a final ranking of 12th in the Rivals.com 2014 Team Recruiting Rankings, consists of D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and David Bell. Tate and Bell are in-state prospects while Russell and Bates-Diop are outside of the state lines but are considered to be regional prospects.
D’Angelo Russell, however, is the highest rated of the four prospects. Russell, who is a native of Louisville, Kentucky but played his final three seasons of high school basketball at Montverde Academy in Florida, and is the first five-star that Matta has landed since Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas enrolled at Ohio State for the 2010-2011 season.
As a 6-foot-5-inch, 185-pound combo guard, Russell is wired to score and can do so in bunches, especially when he gets hot. His ball handling skills are sound as well, but with Shannon Scott coming back, Russell will likely play at the shooting guard position for the vast majority of his freshman season.
However, Russell must build up his upper-body strength and improve his shot selection in order to endure the physical punishment that is certain to be present in the Big Ten Conference.
Nonetheless, Russell’s shooting ability, his overall knack for coming up large in late-game situations and his overall feel for the game cannot be denied.
Keita Bates-Diop is somewhat of a late bloomer but is considered to be one of the top prospects at the small forward position in the Class of 2014. Bates-Diop, who is a 6-foot-7-inch, 195-pound prospect from Normal, Illinois is another lanky but talented prospect that the Buckeyes have brought in.
Defensively, Bates-Diop is a matchup nightmare. He has the quickness to play shooting guards but also has the length and athletic frame to guard stretch forwards. Most importantly, Bates-Diop plays the game with a quiet intensity, as the forward puts out a tremendous effort on both ends.
The questions with Bates-Diop are similar to the questions that are currently being posed over Russell’s head: Will Bates-Diop develop the strength that is necessary to endure the physical punishment that is certain to present itself in the Big Ten? Can he improve upon his shooting ability? Time will tell, but Bates-Diop is certain to play a major factor in Ohio State’s future success given his defensive prowess.
Jae’Sean Tate is the third member of the class, and as the top in-state prospect in the class, he will likely carry the most interest of the four prospects. A 6-foot-5-inch, 200-pound small forward, Tate is an absolute bull when driving into the lane and carries his physical frame well on the basketball floor.
The Pickerington Central High School standout is also a legitimate threat from 18 feet and in and has a smooth left-handed jumper that will provide as a great counter to his driving abilities. Tate also has the strength to wreak havoc defensively at his position.
Honestly, I believe that Tate is the most college-ready prospect of the four Ohio State signees in the class as of right now. Even though Tate is ranked around 40 spots lower than Russell and Bates-Diop (according to Rivals), the two aforementioned players are rated as high as they are based on their potential, while Tate’s ranking is arguably based on his overall production.
However, I believe that Tate’s strength and ability will outweigh his lack of size for the small forward position. My prediction for Tate is that he will become somewhat of a smaller clone to current Buckeye Sam Thompson, but will turn out to be a better shooter from the field than Thompson as he maturates to the college game.
The fourth and final member of the class is David Bell, a 6-foot-9-inch, 220-pound big man from Garfield Heights High School in Cleveland. Bell is likely to back up incumbent big men Amir Williams, Trey McDonald, and Marc Loving but will provide the Buckeyes with a crucial big body to use if Williams, McDonald, or Loving get into early foul trouble.
Overall, it looks like Thad Matta has brought in another highly regarded and very successful group of prospects that will fit his system, and it will be interesting to watch each of these four prospects grow as they start playing in Columbus.