Ohio State spotlight: LaQuinton Ross
LaQuinton Ross is contributing with scoring and rebounding, but coach Thad Matta wants to see improvement on defense.
A year ago this weekend, LaQuinton Ross returned to the Ohio State men’s basketball team. Only now is he beginning to catch up to the reputation that preceded him.
But he said he thinks he is better for the journey.
“I’ve definitely grown as a person,” Ross said, “because it has been humbling. Coming out of high school as one of the top recruits in your class, you get here and it really humbles you sitting on that bench, looking out there and thinking ‘I could help my team’ but the coaches knowing I wasn’t ready.”
The Buckeyes played 7,800 minutes last season on the way to the Final Four. Ross, ballyhooed a few years before as the best high-school freshman in the country, was on the bench for 7,765 of them. After missing all of preseason practice and the first month of the season while gaining academic eligibility, he never caught up with his teammates, and the coaches had no time to wait for him.
One year later, he still is catching up.
“In essence, Q’s a freshman,” coach Thad Matta said.
This season, however, without Jared Sullinger and William Buford reliably putting the ball in the basket alongside Deshaun Thomas, Ross is someone Matta might need.
Ross can score and, at 6 feet 8, 220 pounds with a 7-2 wingspan, he can rebound, too.
He had 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes against Albany on Nov. 11, and 11 and five in 22 minutes against Missouri-Kansas City two weeks later. When early foul trouble forced Thomas to sit at Duke last week, Ross struck for five points in 10 minutes as Ohio State built a halftime lead. Buoyed by that, he came back with career highs of 22 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes against Northern Kentucky last Saturday.
Matta was second-guessed for not playing Ross more in the second half against Duke while his teammates hit everything but net. To do so, though, would have meant Ross guarding a player 4 inches shorter who already was lighting up two better defenders, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
So he sat.
When asked why Matta didn’t go to him, Ross said, “I have no idea, but it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s the coach’s decision and that’s the only thing that matters.”
That’s growth. A year ago, on Twitter, he vented his frustration about not getting into a game. After the Duke game, he went back to work and “had a great practice” the day before the game against Northern Kentucky, Matta said.
Ross knows his ability to understand and master Matta’s concepts of team defense, to where they become instinctive, is the next step for him. He also needs to consistently apply the techniques for staying in front of the player he is guarding.
“I’m learning every day,” he said. “It’s a process. It’s not something you’re going to pick up in one day. But I think I’ve come a long way.
“In high school, I felt like if I outscored someone, I won the matchup.”
Matta said he hopes Ross “continues to turn the corner and see the path of coming in every day, going to work and just taking everything we work on and carrying it to the game.
“The one thing with LaQuinton is, you constantly have to point out the little things and how important they are in terms of the overall picture. Just getting him to continue to sharpen up everything is huge for us.”