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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

Best seat with the best team

Walk-on Days enjoys bench seat with OSU


Ohio State reserve guard Eddie Days, left, jokes with starting forward Jared Sullinger in a recent game. Days, a walk-on, feels fortunate to get to watch the best college team in the nation play from the bench. Ohio State reserve guard Eddie Days, left, jokes with starting forward Jared Sullinger in a recent game. Days, a walk-on, feels fortunate to get to watch the best college team in the nation play from the bench.
CLEVELAND — Forget the experts, the color commentators and the guys who act like they know it all when it comes to the NCAA tournament and the top teams in the field. They don't know nearly as much as they profess.

When it comes to Ohio State basketball and why the Buckeyes are No.1 in the country, the top seed in the NCAA tournament, and the current owners of a 33-2 record, Eddie Days knows why.

Days has been on the inside. He has seen the secret formula. He knows the combination to the safe. Eddie Days knows what's behind the curtain in the Emerald City in the Land of Oz.

"What's been going here really has been magical — and amazing," Days said Saturday as the Buckeyes practiced at Quicken Loans Arena, where they will meet George Mason late this afternoon in the NCAA tournament. "It's a great group of guys, who are also great friends and great basketball players."

Days has appeared in just eight of the 34 games the Buckeyes have behind them. Days has played only 14 minutes over the past five months and not scored a point. But he has been paying plenty of attention to what's been going on.

Days is a senior from the Cleveland suburb of Richmond Heights who made the Ohio State team as a walk-on two years ago. He has been there for every practice, every film session, every team meeting, and every second of every game the Buckeyes have played. He's in the timeout huddle, and in the locker room before the game and at halftime.

"I've never been on a team this close, where the guys don't hesitate to make any sacrifice for the good of the team," Days said. "Everybody was the star in high school. But on some college teams, guys let their egos get in the way. Not on this team — there's none of that."

From his front row seat at every game, Days has watched Ohio State push for the pinnacle of college basketball with an unusual playing rotation that is a blend of senior veterans, one gifted junior, and three uniquely talented freshmen.

"What's made it work so well is that the freshmen were never treated like freshmen. From the time we started back in June, the expectations have been the same for everyone," Days said. "But the freshmen always had an older guy there helping them along, telling them what to do. That insured that the freshmen were a critical part of the team."

Days said he has watched the emotional bonds on the Ohio State team and the deep friendships among the players converted into the efficient style of play the Buckeyes exhibited in their first game of the NCAA tournament when they easily dispatched Texas-San Antonio.

"When guys are really good friends, that translates into a trust on the court," he said. "We have that working for us, no matter who is out there. I see it all the time."

Days, the nephew of former Buckeye Jim Cleamons who played in the NBA and now coaches on the Lakers' staff, said he attributes a lot of Ohio State's success to that unity, and an attention to detail.

"Nobody takes our preparation lightly. We're told that everybody needs to be ready at any moment, so that's the way we prepare," Days said. "We might be the top seed in the NCAA tournament, but we don't look at the seeds.

"Every team, every opponent gets the same attention."

So when the Buckeyes meet George Mason Sunday, Days anticipates that his team will be organized, it will be focused, and it will be united, from the starters to the last man on the bench.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.

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