- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Nobody at Ohio State gets very worried if a Buckeye game is close in the final minutes, because that's what brings out the best in Jimmy Jackson, and his best is about as good as it gets these days in college basketball. The 6'6" swingman from Toledo has a way of taking a game and making it his own. He did it again last Saturday against Michigan in Ann Arbor, exploding in the final eight minutes of a 67-57 victory that lifted the Buckeyes' record to 12-0, their best start since Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek were hanging around Columbus a lifetime or so ago.
It didn't really matter that, until that point, Jackson had more or less been a no-show, the result of his playing 39 hard minutes in the Buckeyes' taut 63-59 home court victory over Iowa, a game that ended only 41 hours before tip-off against the Wolverines. But at crunch time Jackson blocks out everything except getting the job done. Whatever it takes—a silky jumper, a penetration and look-away pass, a nifty steal—JJ will do it.
And so it was against Michigan. Held to only four points and five shots in the first 31� minutes, Jackson dumped 12 points on the helpless Wolverines—it must have felt like being run over by one of those four-wheel-drive numbers they build down the road—the rest of the way. He hit jumpers, slashed inside for a dunk and a reverse layup and converted his free throws. When it was over, the Buckeyes were 2-0 in the Big Ten and dreaming of their first conference title in 20 years.
Afterward, Michigan coach Steve Fisher, who had believed the Buckeyes were ripe for an upset in their first true road test, had an ominous message for Ohio State's future opponents. After praising Jackson as "one of the premier sophomores in the country," Fisher said, " Ohio State is very good now, but by mid-February they'll be a lot better."
That's sweet music in Columbus, where the basketball team is taking some of the sting out of the football team's miserable season-ending loss to Air Force in the Liberty Bowl. While the radio talk shows are full of grousing about football coach John Cooper, basketball coach Randy Ayers, in only his second year on the job, has become so popular around town that he and his wife, Carol, have to travel 358 miles to Chicago or 111 miles to Cincinnati to enjoy quiet nights out.
Everybody loves a winner, of course, and the fans in Columbus are so excited about their team's chances in the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament that historic St. John Arena is crackling with energy and anticipation, just as it did during the halcyon Lucas-Havlicek era. That was back when Ohio State's three-year record (78-6) included the 1960 NCAA championship and final-game losses to Cincinnati in the following two years.
Nobody, certainly not Ayers, is saying the current Buckeyes are anywhere near that good...yet. However, Ayers has surrounded Jackson with all the components necessary for a championship contender. Junior point guard Mark Baker has no peer in the Big Ten, junior wingman Jammaal Brown is a superb defender and shooter, and 6'8" senior center Perry Carter compensates for his lack of height with a 230-pound frame so perfectly proportioned that Columbus Monthly put him on the cover and declared him owner of the city's best body.
"I can't understand," says Ayers slyly, "why they didn't give it to me."
Only 34, Ayers, the Big Ten's youngest coach, has come a long way in a short time. A native of Springfield, Ohio, he attended Miami of Ohio after turning down a scholarship offer from Ohio State. When Ayers decided he wanted to go into coaching, Darrell Hedric, his college coach, prevailed upon an old friend, Bobby Knight, to recommend Ayers for an assistant's job at West Point, where Knight had begun his career. Ayers got the job, and two years later he joined Ohio State as a volunteer assistant under Eldon Miller. After Miller was fired in 1986, new coach Gary Williams retained Ayers and gave him a full-time job in 1987.
When Williams left for Maryland before last season, he recommended that Ayers be his successor. Some help. Ayers was eventually hired, but only after Ohio State interviewed Nolan Richardson of Arkansas, Jim Crews of Evansville, and Pete Gillen of Xavier. The clincher for Ayers may have been the endorsement he got from the Ohio State players, some of whom went to athletic director Jim Jones and pleaded that he be given the job.