Bob Hunter commentary | Rumblings: Thad Matta might want recruit’s teammates

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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When A.J. Harris committed to Ohio State recently in men’s basketball, it was surprising because not even Harris, a 5-foot-9 junior guard from Dayton Dunbar, was expecting the offer when he and his family visited coach Thad Matta on campus.

But take a look at the bigger picture, and it’s less surprising. Matta has a history of signing players from the same AAU team — Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook in 2006, and Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon in 2010 — and he seems headed down that road again.

Two of Harris’ teammates this summer with the King James Shooting Stars are rated among the highest nationally at their positions: 6-5 Luke Kennard of Franklin, Ohio, and 6-5 V.J. King of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Kennard is the No. 3 shooting guard in 2015 in 247Sports’ composite index of recruiting rankings, and King is the No. 2 small forward in 2016.

A fourth Ohio target, 6-8 Carlton Bragg of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, is the No. 4 power forward in 2015. He didn’t play with the King James team this summer, but Harris said he has heard rumblings that they will join forces next year. 

Watching some of the freshmen football defenders for Ohio State during the preseason, one characteristic appears to be obvious, especially in the back seven.

Eli Apple, Darron Lee, Gareon Conley, Cam Burrows, Chris Worley, Vonn Bell, Mike Mitchell, Trey Johnson and Tyquan Lewis are lean, 6 feet or taller with long arms and quick feet. Many of the defensive players committed to the 2014 recruiting class look similar.

“We’re recruiting a very specific kind of player right now; I think it should be obvious to people who are watching,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “We’re looking for long, lean, fast football players who love to run and hit. Then we’ll figure out how we can get 11 of them on the field at the same time.”

The Clippers’ weeknight home games in April and May start a half-hour earlier than during the summer — 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 — to accommodate families with schoolchildren, and team president Ken Schnacke is contemplating a similar move for mid and late August games.

“We noticed that for the Sunday six o’clock game, we didn’t have as big a walkup as we usually do, and that might have had something to do with school on Monday,” he said. “Just a couple of years ago, school wasn’t starting until after Labor Day, and now it’s mid August.”

Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is teaming up with former Akron and Walsh coach Jim Dennison to teach a class at Akron called “General Principles of Coaching” beginning next week. The class is open to students and the general public. Retiring Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres, Akron football coach Terry Bowden and Akron men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot are expected to be among the guest lecturers. One of Tressel’s Ohio State players, former co-captain Kirk Barton, is scheduled to be a guest lecturer in November.Tressel is a vice president at Akron.

With Real Salt Lake midfielder Cole Grossman recovering from a concussion, it’s unclear whether he will play Saturday against the Crew. But his animosity toward his former team is no secret.

The Crew took Grossman in the second round of the Major League Soccer draft out of Duke in 2011. But after struggling to find a regular spot in the lineup, he asked for his release two straight years, and his wish was granted last November.

“It’s obviously a league that isn’t conducive to players making their own future, which makes this decision a very difficult one because it certainly is incredibly risky,” Grossman said at the time. “But it was one that I just absolutely had to make for a lot of different reasons. Particularly, when the head coach (Robert Warzycha) and the players don’t see eye to eye about pretty much everything, I knew being in that situation that I had no future.”

The Crew went 6-1-3 when Grossman played, and teammates praised his intensity and positive attitude. Although playing time has been scarce this season, he played on Wednesday against Portland and scored in stoppage time to give Real a 3-3 tie. 

Yan Gomes’ emergence as a reliable alternative at catcher has allowed Carlos Santana to move into the cleanup spot for the Cleveland Indians.

Manager Terry Francona was reluctant to let Santana handle the dual responsibilities of catching and batting cleanup. But neither Nick Swisher nor Asdrubal Cabrera has done enough to claim the cleanup spot, and with Gomes batting and catching well, it has allowed Santana to play more at first base and designated hitter.

Gomes started the season with the Clippers but has been with the Indians since April 28. He is batting .297 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 192 at-bats.

George Iloka was at the top of the depth chart at strong safety for the Cincinnati Bengals until he got frustrated during practice last week and took a swing at linebacker Jordan Campbell during a special teams drill. He made contact with Campbell’s helmet, and the resulting wrist injury caused Iloka to miss an exhibition game last week against Tennessee. He remains doubtful for a game Saturday against Dallas.

“It’s unfortunate for George because he had worked himself into having a chance to be on the field, from classroom work to field work to now and understanding the playbook,” defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said. “But it’s self-inflicted. He knows that because he hears it from me every day. Every day I asked him, ‘What did you learn?’ He said, ‘Don’t be stupid.’ ”

Shawn Williams, Iloka’s competition at the position, had 10 tackles against the Titans.

Taking a cue from his new team’s city, former Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason is having his mask painted with historic figures from Philadelphia’s Revolutionary War days as zombies. Mason’s previous masks featured items you would see in a horror movie — skeletons, skulls and stitches holding things together or being torn apart. He met with painter Franny Drummond and asked for the zombie theme.

“He said, ‘I want horror, but without a horror movie,’ ” Drummond said. “He said, ‘Why don’t we do Ben Franklin as a zombie,’ (and) I said, ‘I guess we could do it.’ I said I’ll do sketches … and this is basically what I came up with. Betsy Ross, any historical figures, and taking it and making it into a zombie apocalypse that hit Philadelphia in 1776.

“We have the (Flyers) logo, and it’s going to be like (Ross) stitched it to the mask. Ben Franklin, him with the key, he’s kind of giving the key to the city. Just weird stuff. (Mason) loves stitches. We’re going to keep that feel.”

The Cincinnati Reds are among the teams reportedly interested in Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero. Guerrero, 26, defected this year and is working out in the Dominican Republic. He will need to be unblocked by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign with a major league team.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reported last month that Guerrero is expected to command a five- to seven-year deal. One recent report had him narrowing his list to four teams — the Dodgers, Twins, Red Sox and Braves. The Reds’ chances might hinge on the fact they signed another Cuban defector, closer Aroldis Chapman.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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