Buckeyes open Big Ten play later today with Minnesota – will be missing star freshman defender Luther Muhammad – the importance of the bench to contribute in his absence.
Columbus – It took about as long as it takes to run a fast break for Duane Washington Jr. to make an impression on his future Ohio State basketball teammates.
When he was being recruited, Washington was being shown around Value City Arena on a visit with another high school player.
Inside the practice gym, he noticed that the Buckeyes were sweating like racehorses from a hard day’s work and looked beat.
“We were dog tired from lifting weights, but had open gym because the recruits were coming,’’ center Kaleb Wesson said. “He said, ‘Pick it up.’ We just looked at him.’’
Washington wanted to play “to see if I was built for this thing. I was ecstatic about it.’’
Now, it’s up to the 6-foot-3 combo guard to pick it up with another true freshman, Luther Muhammad, out indefinitely with a dislocated left shoulder.
It’s not known whether Washington will start or come off the bench for Ohio State in its Big Ten opener against Minnesota at 7 p.m. Sunday in The Schott, but it’s almost a certainty that he’ll play a lot more than his 18.6-minute average the first seven games.
Muhammad was injured bumping into teammate Kyle Young on a defensive play underneath the basket with 1:02 left in a 72-62 loss to Syracuse in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Friday night.
For an instant, it looked as though Muhammad would be just fine when he broke free of trainers leading him off the floor and ran to the Ohio State bench.
“Obviously, he had a terrific start for us and impacted us at both ends,’’ coach Chris Holtmann said. “We have confidence in the next group of guys in the rotation to step up in his absence.’’
Muhammad was playing an average of 27.9 minutes in having started six of the seven games. The non-start occurred when he and four others were disciplined for showing up to pre-game late for a game against South Carolina State. He is averaging 8.9 points to rank third on the team and 2.9 rebounds. He ranks second in assists (19) and steals (six).
“It’s going to be a big loss,’’ Wesson said. “Luther usually guards on of the better scorers on the other team. Losing him is huge. He’s one of our better defenders.’’
Holtmann said starting a game is overrated, and that the player who replaces Muhammad in the rotation might well come off the bench.
Obvious candidates are Washington, senior graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, 6-5 sophomore forward Musa Jallow and the other two freshmen, 6-foot-9 forward Jaedon LeDee and guard-forward Justin Ahrens of Versailles.
“I think we need more from our veteran guys,’’ Holtmann said.
Specifically, he wants senior point guard C.J. Jackson to pick it up defensively and for Woods to be a little more selfish on offense with regard to looking for his shot.
Washington was rated only a three-star prospect at Sierra Canyon Hig School in Chatsworth, Calif., but he has been a smash hit for the Buckeyes shooting 43.5 percent, making 13 of 29 three-pointers and averaging 8.6 points and 2.3 rebounds.
“Duane is a confident kid and that’s why we like him,’’ Holtmann said. “He has been a great outgoing person.’’
Division I basketball has not intimidated Washington. He scored 12 points in a victory at Creighton in the Dave Gavitt Tip-off Games.
It was obvious, though, that Muhammad was a step ahead of Washington in their development. Both, though, have unusual confidence for first-year players.
“It has definitely been a change adapting to this,’’ Washington said of the college game. “I feel very comfortable and obviously I’m a very confident guy. I’ve been confident in myself in life in everything I do.’’
As far as who plays more, he has no clue.
“That’s something coach will have to figure out,’’ he said. “I’ll be ready for whatever coach needs me to do. I feel prepared.’’
Syracuse handcuffed Ohio State with its tall, athletic lineup, and Minnesota (6-1) will bring much of the same with 6-7, 250-pound senior forward Jordan Murphy (15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds), 6-8 junior forward Amir Coffey and 6-4 freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur (13.6 points each). Other starters are 6-5 senior guard Dupree McBrayer (9.6) and 6-10 freshman center-forward Daniel Oturu (8.1, 6.4).
The Gophers have defeated Utah, Texas A&M, Washington and Oklahoma State, among others. They lost to Boston College 68-56 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“League play is a different animal,’’ Holtmann said. “Typically, it’s another level of intensity.’’