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COLUMBUS — When Marc Loving unveiled his new tattoo last fall, the first reaction was awe over the slick design.
The second reaction: You sure you got permission for this?
"Everybody was so surprised when Marc got that tattoo," Loving’s mother, Angela, said with a laugh. "Everyone, including his coaches, would ask him, ‘Does your mom know you did that?’ And his answer was, ‘Yeah, she knows. My parents have been working on the tattoo with me for more than a month.’"
Now flourishing as a freshman for the Ohio State basketball team, Loving wanted the ink to honor the city that helped him get there.
The St. John’s Jesuit graduate and his parents, Marc and Angela, brainstormed designs and Toledo touchstones — an early rendition featured the Mud Hens’ logo — before settling on a Glass City collage packed inside an outline of Ohio. The tattoo on his left arm features the downtown skyline and Toledo spelled out, with a "Block O" replacing the second letter.
"I take a lot of pride in where I'm from," Loving said.
That includes the legacy he represents.
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There are few marriages of city and school more historically fruitful than Toledo and Ohio State basketball. In fact, name a city that has punched more above its weight in producing a pipeline to a single program.
Run down the list again.
Kelvin Ransey starred for Macomber, started four years for the Buckeyes, snagged All-American honors his senior year, and was picked fourth overall in the 1980 NBA draft. He is OSU’s fifth-leading career scorer.
Dennis Hopson minced the City League at Bowsher and became Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer. The former All-American and Big Ten player of the year was selected third in the 1987 draft.
Jim Jackson led the Macmen to a state championship in 1989, stormed through Ohio State with two first-team All-American honors in his three-year career, and was selected fourth overall in the 1992 NBA draft. He is the Buckeyes’ seventh-leading career scorer.
William Buford led Libbey to a runner-up finish at the Division II state tournament in 2008, won Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award, and became tied for third with Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas on OSU’s scoring list.
That’s four of Ohio State’s top seven career scorers. Then expand the radius, and add the late Dave Sorenson — an All-American center from Findlay and the Buckeyes’ 10th all-time scorer. Not to mention current OSU star Aaron Craft (Liberty-Benton) or former Glass-to-the-Capital-City products Wardell Jackson (Macomber), Neshaun Coleman (St. John’s), and Jermaine Tate (Central Catholic).
Loving, a 6-foot-7 forward averaging 6.6 points in 13.3 minutes on the season for the No. 11 Buckeyes (15-3, 2-3), is just the latest.
Asked about northwest Ohio’s assembly line yielding the Buckeyes another standout, coach Thad Matta smiled.
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"You look at who those guys were, from Jimmy to Dennis to Kelvin Ransey to William Buford to Marc, those guys were really, really good players before they got here," Matta said last week. "But I also think — and we try to recruit to this — there are guys that have an appreciation for this university, where it means maybe just a little bit something more to them and they know what they're representing.
"I think you definitely get that from Toledo. I don't know if it's the ride down 23 or what it is."
For Loving, it was a ride he long dreamed of making. His father played with Ransey at Macomber, Jackson was a family friend, and the Loving house bled scarlet. Maybe he could go to Ohio State too.
Loving showed an unnatural drive early. By the fifth grade, he was playing hours every day, even setting an alarm for 5 a.m. on the weekends.
"Marc was the one waking us up!" Angela said. "When the YMCA opened, we would be in the gym, Saturday and then Sunday before church."
Soon, the potential of those habits mixed with his long, athletic frame became clear. For all of the gifted players to pass through St. John’s recently — Brian Roberts, B.J. Raymond, Zach Hillesland, Andrew Taylor, and Joe Jakubowski all started for Division I teams the past decade — Loving was the first Titan ever turned away from tryouts for the freshman team.
"I’ve always told the kids you need to prove yourself at the freshman level," longtime St. John’s coach Ed Heintschel said. "But Marc’s talent level was so ridiculously clear, I felt I'd be putting him in jeopardy physically with other freshmen."
Loving instead paid his dues on the junior varsity team — "A day or two," Heintschel said — and jumped straight to starting for the varsity.
A scholarship offer from Ohio State — the only one he truly wanted — came after his freshman season. The 15-year-old Loving already had offers from Xavier and Central Michigan, and bigger schools were muscling into the game. He could have gone near anywhere he wanted. He became the Titans’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder, a Parade All-American and Mr. Ohio his senior year last season, and a consensus four-star recruit.
Ohio State basketball top career scorers:
Rank, Player, High School, Years (Points)
1. Dennis Hopson, Bowsher, 1983-87 (2,096)
2. Herb Williams, Columbus Marion-Franklin, 1979-81 (2,011)
3. William Buford, Libbey, 2008-12 (1,990)
4. Jerry Lucas, Middletown, Ohio, 1959-62 (1,990)
5. Kelvin Ransey, Macomber, 1976-80 (1,934)
6. Michael Redd, Columbus West, 1997-2000 (1,879)
7. Jim Jackson, Macomber, 1989-92 (1,785)
8. Jay Burson, New Concord, Ohio, 1985-89 (1,756)
9. Deshaun Thomas, Fort Wayne, Ind., 2010-13 (1,630)
10. Dave Sorenson, Findlay, 1967-70 (1,622)
"I really did try hard to get him to look at other schools too," Heintschel said.
But he knew it was futile. Loving committed to OSU in less than 24 hours, waiting only because his parents suggested he sleep on the decision.
Four years later, Matta said he is "blown away" by Loving’s progress. He calls the freshman a "sponge" in practice and film sessions, watching him evolve into a steady contributor during Big Ten play.
Loving scored eight points in the Buckeyes’ league-opening win at Purdue, then 13 in a rout of Nebraska. He had 10 points in 23 minutes of an overtime loss to Michigan State, and displayed his dynamic potential against Iowa with a baseline drive that ended in a two-handed slam through a foul.
The year has featured expected challenges. Loving was held scoreless on Thursday against Minnesota as the Buckeyes staggered to their third straight loss, and he is shooting 28.9 percent from beyond the arc and 41.8 percent overall. But all in all, as a freshman in a rugged league, Matta said he "could not be happier with how he’s playing."
"When you come in with the right attitude, your talent will show," junior guard Sam Thompson said. "And Marc’s has been showing."
Back home, Loving’s father, Marc, said, "We're so proud of him. This is a dream come true, actually."
His son would say the same. Toledo’s latest native son to make the drive down 23, Loving is proud to write the next chapter in an ongoing story.
He even has the ink to prove it.
"The tattoo is just a symbol representing where I’m from," he said. "There’s a lot of tradition from northwest Ohio here at Ohio State. I don't want to say I'm putting pressure on myself to live up to a certain expectation, but I know I definitely want to represent the area well."