McGuff's Buckeyes: thin roster, lots of newcomers
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The probability experts at Ohio State would relish this real-world problem: What are the odds of three players from the same 11-person team suffering season-ending knee injuries within a month?
''I've never seen it, I've never been a part of it,'' second-year Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff said. After a hollow laugh, he added, ''But I am now.''
This was supposed to be the year McGuff unveiled one of the nation's top recruiting classes and two stellar transfers, transforming a relatively methodical team into a group of running, gunning, trapping and pressing speedsters.
''Circumstances have dictated some changes in what we wanted to do and what we started out doing. But that's just the reality,'' said McGuff, whose team opens at Virginia on Friday night. ''Our kids have been fine. We can sit around here and whine and complain about it and make excuses or we can show up and practice hard.''
A lot has changed over the last two months. McGuff dismissed Raven Ferguson, the second-leading scorer, for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Then freshmen Makayla Waterman and Chelsea Mitchell - the twin sister of 2014 Ohio Ms. Basketball Kelsey Mitchell - went down with torn knee ligaments. Then Kianna Holland, a lightning-quick transfer from Duke with 3 1/2 years of eligibility remaining, also went down with a knee injury.
The Buckeyes are so short-handed that McGuff even reached out to one of last year's starters, Amy Scullion, who redshirted after tearing up a knee her freshman year and decided to call it a career at the end of her junior season so she could bow out with her classmates. Even though she's in medical school at Ohio State, she'll practice and play when she can fit it in.
McGuff also benefits from the return of Kalpana Beach, who started as a freshman then missed the past two complete seasons - with knee injuries. Notice a trend here?
''A lot of people are probably underestimating us,'' Beach said. ''That can be good and bad. But we're definitely ready for the challenge.''
McGuff's first year at Ohio State was a teeter-totter ride, with big wins followed by equally big defeats. The Buckeyes faded at the finish and went 17-18, going 5-11 in the Big Ten.
This year, he'll give the ball to Kelsey Mitchell, considered the No. 1 point guard in the country by ESPN. She scored 50 points in a regional tournament game a year ago, and is also a flashy passer who is just as likely to have 10 assists. She led Cincinnati Princeton High School to the state championship, averaging 26.5 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in the state's final four.
''She's really special, she really is,'' McGuff said. ''She really strikes to the heart of giving us somebody who can lead us from a style-of-play standpoint.''
Forward Shayla Cooper, from Georgetown, will add some toughness when she becomes eligible on Dec. 22 after sitting out a transfer year.
''Coach McGuff believes in me and Kianna as well as the incoming class to make the future bright,'' said Cooper, a McDonald's All-American out of high school in Norcross, Georgia.
Despite all the new faces, it'll likely be a familiar one who once again leads the Buckeyes.
Ameryst Alson, a grizzled veteran as a 20-year-old junior on a team with no seniors, led the way with 19 points a game last year.
''I'm really excited. I know everyone else is, too,'' she said.
Also returning is junior Cait Craft, sister of former Buckeyes men's star Aaron Craft, who averaged 8.5 points a game last season.
''Definitely we'll have a surprise factor,'' she said.
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