Capture the flag and hoops part of Canadian trip

September, 1, 2009
Late Saturday and Sunday night, Thad Matta heard his players running through the Canadian woods playing "capture the flag" near Kingsville, Ontario.

When Ohio State arrived in Canada on Thursday night, card and board games started within 20 minutes of walking into their Pigeon Bay Cottages.

Minutes earlier, when Matta arrived at the camp area, he said he was searching through the "pitch-dark night with a flashlight," leading the seniors to pick out the cottages they wanted to reside in for the three-night stay.

"It was a lot of fun," Matta said Tuesday after OSU's four-day trip to Ontario. "It was awesome -- three cottages on Lake Erie, just us and nature."

The idea to make this kind of sojourn instead of a more traditional summer trip to a European destination was formed by Matta years earlier when he was at Butler. He said former coach Barry Collier had planned a trip to Italy, but the trip was switched to Finland. He said the Bulldogs stayed in "the middle of nowhere" and the team drew closer because of the quarters.

"We did things that you don't normally do with a basketball team," Matta said. "We were fishing, playing cornhole, the guys were running through the woods at 1 a.m. playing capture the flag."

The Buckeyes, who don't start school until later this month, are a team that has a legitimate shot to challenge for a top-three Big Ten finish and an extended NCAA tournament run. So there was basketball, too. OSU played three games, beating the University of Windsor twice and Western Ontario once.

Matta experimented with All-American guard Evan Turner at the point. Turner had 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a 90-39 win over Windsor.

"It went well," Matta said of Turner at the point. "I didn't have a ton offensively in, but I was perfectly fine with it. The shot clock [24 seconds] forced us to push the ball. I wish we had a 24-second shot clock in college. I think [Turner] did a pretty good job with the point."

Matta also used Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty as playmakers. He plans on rotating all of them, as well as using P.J. Hill (18 points in the Friday win over Windsor) and Jeremie Simmons in the role. The Buckeyes will be guard/wing-heavy this season, with all but Buford (a sophomore) from this group either a junior or senior.

Dallas Lauderdale (21 points in a 103-68 win over Western Ontario) -- a 6-foot-8 junior who will anchor the inside -- boarded well, as expected. So too did Kyle Madsen, who was Greg Oden's practice buddy in 2006.

The only disappointment on the trip was center Zisis Sarikopoulos, who didn't play much due to a knee injury. But the hope is that he will be good to go for the season. Sarikopoulos is a 7-foot center from Greece who sat out last season after transferring from UAB.

Matta, who was sitting in his backyard Tuesday morning looking out at what he said was a bald eagle, will give the players a few weeks off before school starts later this month. The Buckeyes open up against Alcorn State on Nov. 9 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

• If you're looking for an example of the new world of recruiting at an elite level, J.P. Tokoto is one to examine. Tokoto, who was scheduled to start school Tuesday as a sophomore at Menomonee Falls (Wis.) High School, can boast to his friends and teachers about a summer filled with travel.

Ritchie Davis, executive director of the Wisconsin Playground Warriors (the AAU team Tokoto plays for in the summer), said the 6-5 small forward has already been to the Wisconsin advanced instruction camp, Kansas' elite camp, Duke's high-performance camp, Indiana's elite camp and Marquette's elite camp. Oh, and on the way to Duke, he went to visit with the North Carolina staff.

This is hardly unusual for a player who is ranked in the top 20 nationally. Tokoto is ranked No. 16 in the class of 2012 on ESPNU's Terrific 25.

According to Davis, who said Tokoto's parents are declining any interviews, Tokoto drove to all of the camps except for a separate flight to Kansas and then one to North Carolina that was already planned because the family was going on a vacation. The date of the vacation, though, had to be moved, according to Davis. He said for the trip to Kansas the family used miles which allowed only Tokoto and his father to fly.

Remember now, Tokoto is only 15 years old and is going to be a sophomore. He has already visited six schools.

"And he's got scholarship offers from every school except the University of North Carolina," said Davis, who added that Tokoto isn't taking any more trips in September. But it's clear Tokoto could make an informed decision about where he will go to school earlier than most in the general student body.

As one high-major assistant said Tuesday, "the process has sped up aggressively early. The unofficial visit has taken the place of the home visit. The home visit is a non-entity in the process. The official and home visit are just icing on the cake for a high-major level."

This is yet another example of why Rick Pitino can survive a home visit based on his scandalous situation: He doesn't need to make home visits. Home visits and official campus visits happen so late in the process in today's recruiting environment. Tokoto is just one of many in the top 20 who are jetting around the country for elite camps and instructional camps to get a head start on meeting the coaching staffs. The basketball aspect of the elite camp isn't even the objective.

"Yes, the elite camp is the new thing, but these kids are playing against their peers for 11 tournaments in the spring and summer," Davis said. "They don't need to do it in a one- or two-day camp. They need camp stations and drill work. It seems to be the schools bring them in because they're interested and that school might offer. That's the case for J.P. He went to Kansas and was offered a scholarship. He went to Duke and was offered a scholarship. It's the same thing wherever he went [except for Carolina]."

• My condolences go out to former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart, whose 29-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer Stewart, was killed in a one-car crash at around 3 a.m. Sunday in Columbia, Mo. According to The Kansas City Star, services are set for 10 a.m. Thursday in Columbia. Norm Stewart, a cancer survivor who helped formed the Coaches vs. Cancer organization, has been through quite a lot in his life. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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