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Published: Friday, 7/1/2005

Ohio State headed for hoop heaven

Can you say instant national championship contender?

Can you say Fab Four?

Can you say Ohio State basketball fever catch it?

Can you wait for the 2006-2007 season to get here? Me neither.

All praise to NBA commissioner David Stern, Buckeye fans. If not for Stern s insistence upon a 19-year-old age limit, it s unlikely that longtime AAU teammates Greg Oden and Daequan Cook commit to Ohio State when NBA millions would have awaited them.

Oden would have probably been the top pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, with Cook a likely lottery selection. No way, despite denials to the contrary, that Oden and Cook would have put the NBA on hold, even to spend one year in college. No way that Oden and Mike Conley Jr., AAU and high school teammates, would have joined Cook and highly regarded David Lightly of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph at Ohio State.

No way that Ohio State coach Thad Matta would be putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college basketball, rivaling Michigan s Fab Five of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King in the 1990-91 season.

Oden joins LeBron James as the only players to be named national high school player of the year as juniors. An even 7-foot and 240 pounds, Oden, who has teamed with Conley to lead Indianapolis Lawrence North to back-to-back Class 4A state championships, gives new meaning to the term Rent-A-Center.

Expected to be on loan to Ohio State for one season, two seasons tops, Oden will join the first class of high school players talented enough to leap directly to the NBA who must now wait until they are 19 and attend college for a year before turning pro.

Oden will follow a trail blazed by Marvin Williams, a role model for up-and-coming basketball stars with big hoop dreams. Williams won a national championship at North Carolina as a freshman.

He was the No. 2 pick in the 2005 NBA draft the first of four North Carolina players taken in the first round. It s no coincidence that Oden, Cook and Conley, who have been AAU teammates since seventh grade, all committed to Ohio State. Together, they believe they can win a national title.

First, Cook, a 6-5 senior-to-be at Dayton Dunbar and one of the nation s top prospects, selected the Buckeyes over North Carolina, Illinois and Wake Forest.

The silky-smooth shooting guard averaged 22 points per game and had college and pro scouts flocking to see him shoot.

Who was the last Ohio basketball recruit to choose the Buckeyes over a national power like North Carolina? Jim Jackson?

Cook then "recruited Oden and Conley, the trio making plans during an unofficial visit to Ohio State. Getting Oden was a major coup. He could have played for any school in the country, but, with encouragement from Cook, he picked the Buckeyes.

But make no mistake about it, basketball is a big man s game and Oden s arrival in Columbus should attract other talented players who will now view Ohio State as the new destination school in major college basketball.



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