Ohio State's next big star
Freshman Koufos steps into Oden's spot, the spotlight
Posted: Thursday November 22, 2007 3:14PM; Updated: Thursday November 22, 2007 3:15PM
NEW YORK -- As Kosta Koufos, the 7-foot, 265-pound Ohio State freshman with the ethnic name and the matching European-style skill set, stood at Madison Square Garden's center court Wednesday night, a sobering-up Syracuse fan voiced his feelings on the Buckeyes' newfound star.
"Go back to Europe, Koufos!" yelled the rabble rouser after the Orange lost 79-65 to Ohio State in the preseason NIT semifinal behind 24 points and nine rebounds from Koufos.
Forgive the Syracuse fan for his misplaced xenophobia, but Koufos, whose mother, Kathy, is a Greek immigrant, has never lived in Greece. Born and bred in Canton, Ohio, the starting center who has Greek citizenship, will be associated with the country after last summer. As a member of the Under-18 Greek national team at the European championships in Madrid, Spain, Koufos introduced himself to the international scene by averaging 26.5 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 blocks while gaining MVP honors. "I'm honored to have played for that team," says Koufos, who was approached by professional teams in Greece last summer, but turned down millions to play college basketball in the United States. "It was a great trip for me and my mother to enjoy. My coaches were here tonight and it is a point of pride for me."
More than just another pimpled face in this year's historically deep freshman class, Koufos chose the Garden to throw his Big Greek family coming-out-party. Though already in the books with impressive stats from his first two games (18 points, eight rebounds; 19 points, seven rebounds) Koufos had family and the Greek coaches in the MSG stands for this performance. Just as Memphis guard Derrick Rose grabbed the New York crowd's attention a week earlier, Koufos, who many now will tag as another one-and-done NBA prospect, seemed at home in the professional arena.
On the opposite end of the freshman spectrum, Orange point guard Jonny Flynn, who was held scoreless by the Buckeyes, looked green after gaining early praise for breaking Carmelo Anthony's freshman single-game scoring record in his first game and nailing a crucial three-pointer in his second against St. Joseph's.
"You know, it's Nov. 23 and I had no idea how the young team would respond on this stage," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "I see us as a team that is young but wants to get better. There are hard workers all around with us."
Koufos, who inherited former one-and-done Greg Oden's position on the block, unveiled his full repertoire for the New York crowd. Koufos consistently was locating holes in Jim Boeheim's vaunted zone defense -- sliding behind a defender for an alley-oop, stepping out for a foul-line jumper and leveraging his size on rebounds against the Orange's front court.
"I just had to come in and play my own game. [Oden] was a more dominant player in them post, and I'm more of an inside-out guy," says Koufos, who played against the No. 1 draft pick in open gyms last year. "I wish he stayed, but we have to work at getting better ourselves."
Walking behind Matta as the two made their way to the bus after midnight, there was Koufos, posing for photos with his mother and Greek relatives. A few feet away, Matta was laughing to himself, "You know the whole thing with him being Greek is something. I told him you're just a red-blooded American and he knows it."
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