Ohio State sophomore Shannon Scott drives the lane against Michigan. Scott was voted to the All-Big Ten defensive team. His father, Charlie, was the first African-American scholarship athlete at North Carolina and won and NBA title when he played for the Boston Celtics.
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DAYTON — They would have made a good team, the old scoring guard and his pass-first son.
"We would complement each other real well," Charlie Scott said.
Which is funny, because the barrier-breaking former NBA star now watches his son, Shannon, flourish for Ohio State as part of a guard tandem that doesn’t make nearly as much sense.
Scott is the secret weapon coach Thad Matta will unveil in the opening minutes of the Buckeyes’ first-round NCAA tournament game against Iona at UD Arena — the sophomore co-star along with junior starter Aaron Craft in a mugging new two point-guard lineup that has changed the course of their season.
Both voted first-team All-Big Ten defenders, the pair have made Ohio State one of the nation’s most impenetrable teams and kindled its hopes that tonight will christen a deep March run.
Since Matta committed to teaming the 6-foot-1 Scott with Craft in mid-February, the Buckeyes have neither lost nor allowed an opponent to pass the 60-point mark. Craft is playing the most assured basketball of his career while his defensive protege — Matta by design pits the guards against each other in practice — has become nearly as nettlesome. Scott, a former McDonald’s All-American, is averaging 2.7 steals and 4.0 assists in 23.9 minutes during the Buckeyes’ eight-game winning streak.
Two point guards, one ball, and, if Ohio State has its way, no mercy.
Scott just might make all the difference — only not in the way he once envisioned.
"I take more satisfaction in his accomplishments than I do mine," Charlie Scott said in a phone interview. "People might feel like I had many barriers. Shannon coming to Ohio State and a team that has a point guard the caliber of Aaron Craft and being able to still cut out a niche to where your impact is needed and appreciated, I’m so proud of him."
For Shannon, it has been a twisting two seasons at OSU. What seems like a good situation now did not always, from his limited time as a freshman to the way he became linked with Michigan star Trey Burke, the Columbus native Matta bypassed in favor of Scott.
Through it all, though, he benefited from a steadying mentor.
Few have seen or accomplished more in basketball than his father, Charlie, who became the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina, then the first black basketball star in an Atlantic Coast Conference that remained behind the times. The 6-foot-5 guard helped galvanize a divided state — Charlie could not go out socially with his white friends — as a two-time All-American and the ACC player of the year in 1970.
Yet Charlie, a two-time ABA and three-time NBA All-Star who won a title with the 1976 Boston Celtics, was careful not to hold his legacy over Shannon. In fact, Charlie said his older son began playing football, baseball, and soccer before picking up basketball in elementary school.
"I have a lot of satisfaction in what I was able to accomplish as a basketball player, and hopefully the impact I had was more than just about basketball," Charlie said. "But I never made it about me or what I did."
Still, Shannon Scott proved a natural on the court, developing into one of the country’s top recruits. Matta loved the way the Milton, Ga., native ran a team that rolled to three straight state title games, though he did have one question.
"The team was loaded with talent," Matta said. "He and I laugh about it. I told him, ‘You didn’t have to play very hard in high school, did you? He’s like, ‘Nah.’"
At Ohio State, it was just the opposite. Scott saw his defense as a way to stand out on a team that already had an established point guard, and worked at it daily against Craft — widely considered the top defender in the country.
"What changed was just his mentality," Matta said. "I give Shannon a ton of credit for being perceptive enough to understand what I have to to do help this basketball team."
This year, Scott wanted his close-up, saying, "I wouldn’t say I felt a lot of pressure, but I do know I had a point to prove."
And, last month, after Ohio State bottomed out with a 22-point loss at Wisconsin, he got his biggest chance. Matta committed for good to giving Scott at least 20 minutes a game, and, like in 2007 with Mike Conley, Jr., and Jamar Butler, having two point guards to speed up play at both ends. Even the exacting Craft now calls his running mate "pesky."
"I love having something coming in with [Scott] that, I don't want to say is game-changing, but it's a different look for Ohio State," Matta said. "There's a different tempo."
So while Scott and Craft are unlikely complementary pieces — more similar than different — Charlie will watch tonight’s game at UD Arena and know his son is in the right place.
"I’m more happy with what he’s accomplished," Charlie said, "than the things I accomplished."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.