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College Basketball

Upbeat Buckeyes

New guard, new center brighten Ohio State forecast

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Posted: Monday October 19, 1998 05:21 PM

  The former Eagle has landed: Ohio State should get added leadership with the arrival of Penn from Boston College Otto Greule/Allsport

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A new guard and a new center have things looking up at Ohio State for a change.

"I can't wait. There are just a couple of days until practice and I'm ready to go," point guard James "Scoonie" Penn said Wednesday as Ohio State showed off its 1998-99 team to the media.

Penn, who transferred from Boston College when Jim O'Brien was hired as head coach 18 months ago, is one of the chief reasons for hope.

The other cornerstone to the rebuilding process is still in the building process. The final touches are being made to the $106 million Jerome Schottenstein Center, catty-cornered from 42-year-old St. John Arena.

The posh 19,500-seat arena will be the Buckeyes' new home, starting with the November 3 exhibition game that opens the school's 100th year of the sport.

"The players are anxious to get in there," O'Brien said. "And so are the coaches."

About the only anxiety O'Brien felt last year was when he looked at his personnel compared to opponents. Ohio State went 8-22, matching the school record for losses in a season.

Along the way, O'Brien's first Buckeye team also established the school's worst record (1-15) in its 86 years in the Big Ten and set marks for longest losing streak (17), consecutive conference losses (20) and most road losses in a row (19).

It was the fifth losing season in a row for the once-proud program.

"We went into a lot of games clearly with the intention of keeping the game close, hoping maybe to steal something at the end," O'Brien said. "We'll be in a position this year to go into a game saying, 'We're going after this,' instead of trying to keep the lid on it."

Penn is the point guard of all that optimism. The 5-foot-10 Penn was the Big East Conference's freshman of the year three years ago, and its postseason MVP in his final year at BC before leaving for Columbus.

"With the exception of Scoonie, none of these players have ever been on a winning college basketball team," O'Brien said. "He brings class, leadership abilities, a work ethic to every single thing we do in practice and an air of confidence. He also brings some on-the-floor success, which is sorely needed here."

Penn and the team's top returning player, Big Ten leading scorer and freshman of the year Michael Redd, played on an all-star team that toured Greece this summer. They got to know a lot about each other's games -- and each other.

"I'm just looking forward to having a good year with Scoonie," said Redd, who averaged 22 points a game last season. "Me and him have had good chemistry so far."

Despite Redd's fine first campaign, the Buckeyes were a woeful team on offense. The 6-5 left-hander took one of every three Ohio State shots, many when teams loaded up their defenses after recognizing him as the Buckeyes' only offensive threat.

That figures to change. Penn led BC to the NCAA tournament twice and did it by distributing the ball to the shooters and taking on all the backcourt and fullcourt pressure. If he just does that and doesn't score a point all season, the Buckeyes will be vastly improved.

Guard Neshaun Coleman, forwards Jason Singleton and Jon Sanderson and center Ken Johnson are also back -- Penn, Coleman and Singleton are the team's captains. The other fresh faces: Serbian sharpshooter Slobodan "Boban" Savovic, New York City prep teammates Brian Brown and Will Dudley and junior college transfer George Reese figure to play and play soon.

The Buckeyes are still a long way from their glory days with Jerry Lucas or even Jimmy Jackson, but for a change there is a ray of hope.

"If we just win more than we lose, I'll be a happy man," O'Brien said.  

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