Come for the football in the fall, stay for the hoops through the winter.
“Buckeye City” has more to offer than three yards and a cloud of dust. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak
Ohio is known as the cradle of Pro Football, the home of the best basketball player in the game in LBJ and more specifically the state capital of Columbus is known for being the home to the 2014 Kings of College Football, and THE most recognized, beloved and in some cases hated university football teams in the land. But, over the past fifteen years or so, the 614 has produced some of the top hoops talent in America.
NBA Live: Columbus doesn’t have a professional team, but if the Association looks to expand and bring a franchise back to Seattle; Columbus has been mentioned, and has made a case to be included. Downtown Columbus boast a 16 years young arena, that is currently home to the NHL’s Columbus Bluejackets. It’s the kind of start of the art facility the NBA covets for their teams, and has hosted several NCAA Tournaments in recent years. It’s also the center of a very vibrant arena district with restaurants and nightlife that compliments the arena. While city leaders continue their mission to get a team, the city is very well represented in the Association with players from the area who have made their impact on the games highest level.
2004 NBA All-Star with the Milwaukee Bucks and 2008 Gold Medalist Michael Redd (West High), 2013 Lottery Pick and 2013 John R. Wooden and James A. Naismith Awards winner Trey Burke (Northland High), 2010 Naismith High School Player of the Year, 2011 USBWA National Freshman of the Year and 2-time 1st-Team NCAA All-American Jared Sullinger (Northland High), Chris Quinn (Dublin High), B.J. Mullins (Canal Winchester High), 2002 NBA Champion with the L.A. Lakers Samaki Walker (Whitehall), 1997 #4 overall pick by the Vancouver Grizzlies and 1999 NBA Champion with the San Antonio Spurs Antonio Daniels (DeSales High), Gary Trent (Hamilton Township), Lawrence Funderburke (Eastmoor Academy), Calvin Booth (Groveport Madison High) and Kevin Martin (Zanesville High).
Several old school guys who this current generation may not be familiar with; Granville Waiters (East High) who played with Michael Jordan in Chicago, Jim Cleamons (Linden High) who won 6 titles as an assistant coach with MJ, and long time New York Knicks player turned assistant coach Herb Williams (Marion Franklin High) all come from the 614.
Big Men On Campus: Thad Matta has turned the Ohio State Football Factory into a hoops hotbed. In his 12-seasons at the head of THE Ohio State University basketball program, Coach Matta has led them to two Final Fours (2007, 2012), two Sweet 16 finishes, a trip to the Elite-8, four Big Ten Tournament Championships (2007,2010,2011, 2013), and five Big Ten regular season Championships (2006, 2007, 2010-12). Matta has had four players drafted in the top three picks of the NBA Draft (Oden & Conley 2007, Turner 2010, Russell 2015) and had eight players drafted in the first round.
To many people’s surprise, OSU isn’t the only college in the “Capital City” with a strong basketball tradition. Division III Otterbein UniversityCardinals took home a National Championship in 2002 behind Division III National Player of the Year Jeff Gibbs (East High), who at 6’1″ tall, finished his career with a total of 1,469 rebounds.
Otterbein’s cross town rival the Capital University Crusaders have also enjoyed their fair share of success. The 2009 Crusaders, behind Head Coach Damon Goodwin won 26 games and a trip to the NCAA (Div. III) Tournament’s “Sweet 16.”
Prep Game: Columbus has been the hub for grooming young hoop talent in the Buckeye State since the late 80’s–early 90’s. It’s the home base for one of the most successful AAU programs in the United States; All-Ohio Red led by Jerry Watson. Watson’s program has turned out several Division I prospect and future pros in the NBA and overseas. All-Ohio teams have won 11 National Championships since 1989.
Trey Burke, now of the Utah Jazz, stared at Columbus Northland High School Jared Sullinger. Together, Sullinger and Burke led the Vikings to four Columbus City League titles, an undefeated record in league play in that span, a State Championship (2009) and a 21-0 regular season earning a #1 National ranking in 2010. The Vikings have another highly recruited prospect in Seth Towns who will begin his college career in the fall of 2016 at Harvard.
Brookhaven High School also turned out several highly touted prospects, 2003 McDonald’s All-American Andrew Lavender, Ron Lewis who made some big shots to help the 2007 OSU Buckeyes reached the National Championship game. Together, those two led the Haven as it’s known around the 614, to a State Title in 2002 and a very competitive battle against LeBron James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary’s squad.
Since I mentioned LeBron James; before LBJ, there was a smooth, 6’3″ left handed combo guard from Hartley and Independence High, named Esteban Weaver, who drew the National spotlight much like #23 did, but in a time when High School kids were just starting to make the jump from preps to pros. Weaver was dominating national prep camps and the Worthington Summer League Pro-Am at age 14 against the likes of NBA vets Jim Jackson, Dennis Hopson, Nick Van Exel and several other pros from overseas. Haven’t heard of him? Don’t believe me? Just read this, and check out the highlights from a documentary produced by local apparel company Homage.
In recent seasons the Central Ohio area has been dominated by schools from the suburban area. Westerville South, Pickerington Central and Gahanna Lincoln have produced several major conference Division I prospects. Jae’Sean Tate of Ohio State and Caris Levert of Michigan both graduated from Pickerington Central, where they helped the Tigers win the state title in 2012. Current Tiger Ibi Watson is headed to Michigan as a member of the class of 2016. Ohio State class of 2017 commit Kaleb Wesson (6’9″ 260) has led the Westerville South Wildcats to back-to-back OHSAA Final Four appearances and a 2nd-place finish in 2015. The Gahanna Lincoln Lions have two of the top 5 players ranked in the state for the class of 2016 according to 247Sports.com in Nick Ward and Matthew Moyer, who will be attending Michigan State and Syracuse respectively.
Five players from Columbus have been invited to participate in the McDonald’s All-American game, with two of them taking home the MVP award. The aforementioned Sullinger in 2010, and Kenny Gregory of Independence High in 1997. The ’97 game also featured future NBA All-Stars, Baron Davis, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom to name a few. Gregory went on to have a successful four-year career at the University of Kansas before enjoying a pro career overseas.
How We Do: Versatility is the name of our game. 7-footers don’t grow on trees around here. So our bigs average anywhere from 6’8″ to 6″5″ and can take you on the low block and dominate you with power and finesse moves; then take you outside and blow past you or shoot your eyes out. Our guards have slick hands, deadly shooting, and don’t be surprised if a 6′ or 6’1″guy takes you in the post and calls for the offense to run through him on the block or puts you on a poster.
Runs/Streetball: Columbus weather is very unpredictable regardless of the season, so it’s difficult to have one set place where the best run happens consistently. However, there are several places in and outdoors where you can find high quality competition. Your first stop should always be on the campus of Ohio State.
“The Cages” on 12th Avenue are iconic in Columbus. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak
If the weather allows, there are several outdoor courts on the campus where you’ll find intense competition anytime of the day, and even a few Buckeye hoopers and football players getting in a run. The 12th avenue cages are legendary around the area. There are four courts right across from the dorms and players show up at all times of day, looking to get it in. The lights don’t go out until 2 a-m, which is necessary on many summer nights, because if you lose, expect to sit around a while before you can get another shot a redemption.
If you prefer indoors, you have a few choices. The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department has several gymnasiums strategically placed around the city where they host Men’s leagues that provide the best competition.
The Westerville Community Center in Northeast Columbus, located about 20 minutes from downtown, also attracts highly competitive players and games. You can take advantage of the adult men’s open gym nights, or their A-Level Men’s league that several former Buckeyes, overseas pros on break, as well as lower level D-I, D-II and D-III players.
Whichever spot you choose to lace up your sneakers, just bring your A game; because if you lose, it will be a long wait before you get back on, if at all.