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Published: Saturday, 7/10/2004

Prominent promise: Matta determined to return OSU to national stage

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Newly hired Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta apologized for any hard feelings he may have created by bolting Xavier earlier this week.

But he stopped short of saying he was sorry for denying that he was a candidate for the OSU job on June 29, although he had met with athletic director Andy Geiger the day before.

"I deeply regret the perception of what transpired," said Matta, who was formally introduced as the Buckeyes' 13th coach yesterday. "And my intentions were never to demean Xavier University or the program.

"Dawn Rogers, the athletic director there, is one of my dearest friends and she's a great athletic director, and her and I have made a commitment to each other that we would work on this hand-in-hand.

"Throughout the process, she knew everything that was relayed to me, to her. And I take great pride in the three years that I was there and what our kids were able to accomplish.

"But I think with that said, I'm closing the door on that and I'm opening the door at The Ohio State University. And I believe this: This is the greatest job in the world for me.

"I'm fully aware of the state that this program's in right now. And I stand before you today to let you know I've accepted this position for one reason and one reason only, and that is to bring Ohio State basketball back into national prominence."

Matta, who turns 37 tomorrow, accepted the position Wednesday, ending a month-long search. He replaced Jim O'Brien, who was fired June 8 for giving $6,000 to a recruit who never enrolled at the university. The Buckeyes are facing NCAA sanctions because of that violation, and possibly others.

Matta addressed that issue when he met with OSU's players before yesterday's news conference.

"I do realize that we've got challenges, but I'm here to roll up the sleeves, go to work, and bring this thing back," he said. "I really believe in what this university stands for, what the administration all the way down stands for.

"We've got a long, long road ahead of us, but as I told the [team], it starts right now."

The Ohio State job is Matta's third in five seasons. He was 78-23 the previous three years at Xavier and is 102-31 in four years as a Division I-A coach. He spent one season at Butler, his alma mater, before taking over at Xavier. Matta led the Musketeers to the Elite Eight last season, the best NCAA tournament run in the program's history.

"Every move that I've ever made, I've felt better about it," he said. "I felt that it was a better opportunity for me to achieve things. There's no quick way to get to the top.

"You know, as an assistant coach, I did the same thing. I had to climb the ladder until I felt like I was at the top. And today I stand here and feel like I've reached the top."

The Buckeyes were 14-16 last year, including 6-10 in the Big Ten, and didn't qualify for postseason play. But they return most of their top players next season.

"I'm bringing to Ohio State a fun, exciting style of basketball," Matta said. "I want to play fast, as I told the players, but we will play smart. I'm not a guy that says, 'Boy, listen to this crowd, they love how fast we're running.'

"I'm more concerned about the shots we're getting or the turnovers we may be committing. We will be the

hardest-working, toughest team you've ever seen. We will defend, we will play smart, and we will play hard. And most importantly, as I told them, we will play together as a team."

Team captain Terence Dials is excited about the up-and-down style of basketball Matta is promising.

"We know what he can do," Dials said. "He's a winner. He has proven that the last four years. He said he wanted to compete for the Big Ten championship next year and that's big for me."

Matta has brought two of his Xavier assistants to Ohio State - Alan Major and John Groce - and he may add another one or two.

Asked what he would do if prized recruit B.J. Raymond, from St. John's Jesuit, changed his mind and wanted to go to Ohio State instead of Xavier in 2005, Matta smiled.

"That's a tough question to answer because of the [NCAA] rules" forbidding coaches from talking about players who have not signed a letter of intent, he said.

"I think I better leave that one alone."

Contact Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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