Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, who form the nation's premier
backcourt, were arguing so intensely during halftime of Ohio
State's 79-77 loss to Illinois in the semifinals of the Big Ten
tournament last season that their teammates had to separate
them. Later, Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien pulled the two players
aside and asked if they had made peace. "We told him we were
fine," Penn recalls. "That's just how it is between Mike and me
sometimes. We probably argue more than any other two people on
the team, but five minutes later it's over."
That such a confrontation could be so easily brushed aside goes
a long way toward explaining why Ohio State reached the Final
Four for the first time in 31 years. "We weren't the most
talented team in the country, but we had unbelievable
chemistry," O'Brien says. With three starters, including Penn
and Redd, returning this season along with three significant
reserves, it might seem logical to assume that a trip to
Indianapolis is in the Buckeyes' future. O'Brien, however, knows
it won't be that easy. "Things don't automatically carry over to
the next season," he says. "We're going to make a mistake if we
start thinking that way."
Penn and Redd are well-positioned to continue their success, but
6'11" senior center Ken Johnson is less of a sure thing.
Johnson, who started all 36 games last season but averaged only
6.4 points and 5.7 rebounds an outing, is a sensitive, diffident
art major who relieves stress by writing poetry and playing the
piano. He has had trouble shedding his quietude on the court,
but he turned in a breakout performance during the NCAA
tournament, blocking 21 shots in five games--including seven in
a win over St. John's in the South regional final. "I think he's
gotten a little taste of success, and it's really helped his
self-image," O'Brien says.
The same could be said for the program, which two years ago
completed its fifth straight losing season with an 8-22 record.
"My friends used to call us the Suckeyes," says Redd, who grew
up in Columbus rooting for Michigan. "It was tough going into
games knowing you were going to lose." That certainly won't be
the case this season. If Penn and Redd don't take Ohio State
back to the Final Four, you can be sure they'll at least go down
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG A mightier Penn After last year's surprising Final Four run, Scoonie is back for another try.
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF Brian Brown 6'3" So. 4.1 ppg
PF George Reese 6'7" Sr. 4.3 rpg
C Ken Johnson 6'11" Sr. 2.8 bpg
SG Michael Redd 6'6" Jr. 19.5 ppg
PG Scoonie Penn 5'10" Sr. 16.9 ppg
1998-99 record: 27-9 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 4