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Men's Basketball Notebook: Buckeyes Looking to Improve on Disappointing Season
By John Porentas

COLUMBUS — If you find 11-7 in the Big 10 and a middle-of-the-pack finish in the league disappointing, you're not alone.  If you find missing the NCAA tournament disappointing, you're not alone. If you find an early exit from the NIT tournament disappointing, you're not alone. 

As disappointed as you might be, you will be glad to hear that Thad Matta and the members of his team are right there with you and are hell-bent on doing something about last season's disappointments. 

Assistant coach Dave Dickerson and guard Kam Williams talked about what might be better about the Buckeyes this season.

- Better Team Attitude and Chemistry: The Buckeyes were young, very young last season, and that can be a problem. Dickerson says that is something that is definitely better this year.

"I said this past summer that I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve coached three other teams that have been as young as we were last year and it’s hard to gain leadership when you have a young team, but it’s easy to have leadership when you have an older team. I think we’ve gone from a very, very young team last year to a more mature, older team this year, which is good."

Marc Loving is a senior, Kam Williams is a redshirt junior, and Jae'sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Trevor Thomson are juniors, and David Bell is a redshirt sophomore. Those players are the core of this team and their added experience adds up to more maturity and stability on the floor and better leadership in the locker room.

"The core guys need to step up and take accountability for our actions on the court and especially off the court," said Williams, "because off the court actions can definitely trickle down to things on the court, so just being more vocal and having a bigger presence this year now that we’ve been in difficult situations, being down and we feel like we have a better sense of coming together when times are tough and just weathering the storms if you will."

- Infusion of new talent: There was a mass exodus of young players at the end of last season that most regarded as a housecleaning movement by Thad Matta. This year's incoming class is getting very high marks from both Williams and Dickerson. 

"They all bring great energy," said Williams. "(Point guard) C. J. (Jackson) Is a great shooter, he’s a great passer, he always finds open guys and he plays at a steady pace. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. (Center) Micah (Potter) brings a lot of energy. He’s a guy that you love to be on your team and you hate to play against because you’re going to hear him no matter what. He’s a great rebounder and he stretches the floor. (Forward) Derek Funderburke is extremely, extremely long and athletic. He impacts the game in so many different ways -- offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, blocking shots, help-side. (Forward) Andre (Wesson), he’s a great spot-up shooter. I didn’t think he was going to be a good shooter but he’s a really good spot-up shooter. He can stretch the floor out. We all love what they can bring to the table."

- An Improved Trevor Thompson:  At 7-0, Thompson is a true big man who had his moments last year but also seemed to totally disappear at times. Dickerson says Thompson got some motivation from an unexpected source after the season ended. 

"I thought declaring his name for the NBA draft was either going to help him or hurt him, and I think it’s helped him to this point because now he’s more focused, he’s playing harder, and he’s playing harder longer. His energy level has gotten better and his skill set has gotten better and through out the 14 days that we’ve practiced he’s been really, really good from the field, 56 percent. So if he continues to do that you’re going to see a much better Trevor Thompson."

- More Help on the Baseline: David Bell was the third option last season behind Daniel Giddens and Trevor Thompson. According to Dickerson, Bell is on schedule to be a significant contributor this year.

"We knew Dave Bell was going to be somewhat of a project," said Dickerson. "Maybe I need to use a better word than project, but we knew it was going to take him some time to get to where he can help this program, and this is the year. This is his third year in college and if he’s going to pay dividends for us it’s going to be this year and next year. He’s had an up and down off-season. He had that sports hernia that set him back a little bit so he’s been up and down from that, but we don’t need him to do a lot of things. We need him to be a great defender, a great rim protector, and a guy who plays with a lot of energy and he does those three things."

Freshman Micah Potter will also help down low, though he is fully capable of playing on the perimeter as well. 

"Micah has been really good. He’s got a ton of energy, he’s a smart kid, and he works extremely hard and competes extremely hard, just like all of our guys, the newcomers," said Dickerson. "Micah just brings the inside-out effect. He’s a really good defender, he picks up on things really, really quick, and I think he has a high ceiling."

- Better Outside Shooting: Three point shooting was not exactly a strength last season. According to Williams help is on the way.

"I think if we all can shoot better from the perimeter it can open it up multiple things for our offense: driving lanes, create for others, just stretching the floor out as a whole can create so many different things for an offense.

"J.T. (Jae’Shaun Tate) has actually come a very, very long way with his jump shot. He’s hitting jump shots with people in his face, threes with people in his face, and I keep telling him that I’ll believe it when I see it in a game, so hopefully that’s in his mind when he’s working on his shot, but everybody has been working on their jump shot because everybody is motivated to get better in that aspect of our games."

- And Finally, Coaching: A new face, or rather an old face, has returned to the Buckeye coaching staff. Chris Jent is back and Dickerson sees that as a major plus.

"Chris is awesome. He’s just a basketball guy," said Dickerson. "For him being back in this program it really helps our guys, because whenever you can say N-B-A, guys listen. Sometime when you talk about college and high school they don’t care about that, but Chris has brought some really good terminology and some concepts. When guys can hear that concept from a coaching aspect and to see it in last night’s game, it helps us to become a better team, so it helps to have him back. Chemistry-wise on the staff it’s really good because Chris is a Buckeye and obviously we respect him for that."

After thinking about it for a moment, Dickerson did find one downside to Jent's return.

"It changes our pickup game, I’ll tell you that," Dickerson drawing a laugh from reporters. "The last couple of years I’ve been the best player on the floor but now he’s…we’ve had some heated contests lately."

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