Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame: Former Ohio State coach loves his sport

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Randy Ayers coached Ohio State from 1989 to ’97, going 124-108.

Randy Ayers was a budding star in Springfield, playing for Roosevelt Junior High as an eighth-grader, when he got a harsh lesson in handling adversity.

“I reacted to a call and got a technical,” Ayers said. “It ended up being a 5-point play, so it went from a 5-point deficit to 10.”

The next day in practice, coach Tom Wilson dressed him down.

“He told me in front of the team the next day that it was inexcusable,” Ayers said. “You look back, and I think that had a big impact on me.”

Ayers became a standout at Springfield North High School and then at Miami University before embarking on a coaching career. There have been lows as well as highs — he had both as Ohio State’s coach — but Ayers has carved out a successful career doing what he still loves. On Saturday, he will be one of 12 inductees into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame at a banquet at the Columbus Convention Center.

“The flattering thing is that I’m going in as a coach, which to me is because of the coaches I had on me growing up had a big influence on my life,” Ayers said. “To be able to go in as coach is really something special.”

Ayers, 57, is an assistant for the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets) in the NBA, where he has coached since his firing from OSU in 1997. He had a brief stint as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2003. With the Buckeyes, he coached a team led by Jimmy Jackson, Chris Jent and Mark Baker that fell just short of the Final Four. In 1991, Ayers was named the national Coach of the Year.

“We had a nice three-year run with that group,” Ayers said. “That group was such an unselfish group.”

But then the program slipped, beset by players’ off-the-court problems. After four straight losing seasons, Ayers was let go.

“It was really disappointing,” Ayers said. “I was more disappointed in myself because I didn’t complete the job. I was really happy for the highs, but very disappointed with the lows. It still nags at me to this day.”

But Ayers said he was never bitter about the end of his time at Ohio State.

“It’s on your watch and you have to accept that responsibility,” Ayers said. “That’s just part of the job. It’s always been part of the job. That’s what you take on when you become the head coach.”

But he is grateful for the 14 years he spent as a Buckeyes coach, the first six as an assistant.

“I still have a lot of friends I still stay in touch with,” Ayers said. “It was a great experience for me. I would want to do it over. To be able to talk to those guys now that they are men now and have their own families, I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”

Family has always been important to Ayers. He grew up with four brothers and three sisters in a family raised by his late mom, Betty, who insisted that her children take their schoolwork and other responsibilities seriously.

Sports became the primary outlet. Ayers said he has been blessed to have had many mentors, including an Ohio State predecessor, Eldon Miller, early coach Ed McGinnis, former Springfield North coach Don Henderson, retired Miami University coach Charlie Coles and Saturday’s Heritage Award honoree, Wayne Embry, a fellow Springfield native.

They are the ones who instilled his love of basketball.

“The opportunity to bring 12-13 individuals together and try to develop into a unit, I think that’s really neat,” he said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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