Rewind four months. Ohio State's basketball program was being investigated by the NCAA for a host of allegations, including that Jim O'Brien (who was fired as coach last June) and an assistant had given $6,700 to a recruit. The football program was also under fire after ex-player Maurice Clarett told stories of no-show jobs, booster payouts and bogus grades. AD Andy Geiger had just announced he was retiring after 11 years on the job, saying the scandals left him "bone weary."
Now, as the football team readies for summer workouts and basketball signing day approaches, it's clear that the Buckeyes didn't just weather that storm; they came out of it looking better than ever. Last week seven-footer Greg Oden, who in April became the only junior other than LeBron James to be named national high school player of the year, verbally committed to Ohio State. Second-year coach Thad Matta has received commitments from three other top 35 recruits, and he is confident that Memphis forward Thaddeus Young, one of the nation's 10 best, will follow. Ohio State supporters have a name for next year's frosh, which some recruiting experts say is better than Michigan's heralded class of 1991: the Thad Five.
The announcement of Oden's commitment overshadowed the decision last week of Antonio Henton, a top quarterback prospect, to sign with OSU, which has also snagged Akron's Chris Wells, the nation's top high school running back. But the good news in Columbus runs deeper than the influx of blue-chippers. Last month the NCAA declined to hit the football program with sanctions. Investigators couldn't validate Clarett's charges, largely because he didn't respond to their interview requests. The fate of the basketball program will be determined by the NCAA in the fall. Last year the Buckeyes took the forward-thinking step of declaring themselves ineligible for the 2005 postseason. (Matta's team went 20-12.) New AD Gene Smith is confident that the self-imposed penalty will keep the NCAA from coming down hard on the program. While Smith concedes a scholarship or two might be lost, Oden says, "We're pretty confident it won't affect our postseason when we get there." Despite how things looked earlier this year, that should be sooner rather than later. --George Dohrmann
THOMAS E. WITTE (FLAG)
MICHAEL HICKEY/WIREIMAGE.COM (ODEN)
Oden, who led his high school to two state titles, is Matta's prize recruit.