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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Since arriving at Ohio State in 2004, Thad Matta has recruited enough talent to account for eight NBA draft picks, four All-American selections, and one National Player of the Year award. But while the likes of Greg Oden, Evan Turner, and Jared Sullinger have helped reinvigorate to the Buckeyes basketball program, none of them hold a candle to what Jerry Lucas accomplished during his college career.
Playing from 1959-62, the Ohio State center put together a resume that has stood the test of time and left his No. 11 jersey hanging in the rafters of the Schottenstein Center. Averaging 24.3 points and 17.2 rebound per contest in 82 career games, Lucas won two National Player of the Year awards, was a three-time consensus first team All-American, and was named the 1960 NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Just weeks away from the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament, Lucas' accomplishments earned him a spot on the list of the top 75 players in the tournament's history. The 72-year-old Lucas was back in Columbus on Wednesday, where fellow Buckeyes great Jim Jackson presented him with a trophy memorializing his latest honor during a timeout in the Buckeyes' 71-45 win over Minnesota.
"To be selected among that group is something I'll always remember. To be rewarded like that is very gratifying," Lucas said. "It's always good to be back here. I get here very seldom. I live in California, so it's always fun for me to be here."
When he left Ohio State in 1962 to begin his professional career, Lucas had already brought the Buckeyes their first national championship in 1960, but little did he think that when he would return more than 50 years later that it would still be the program's lone national title. But while the college game has changed since his days, Lucas believes that Matta has the OSU program on a path similar to the one that former Buckeyes coach Fred Taylor followed when he lead OSU to four Final Four appearances.
"Thad's done a great job. He's a great recruiter, a great coach and an incredible success," Lucas said. "It's going to continue because he knows what he's doing. They get excellent talent. The winning ways will continue."
The Middleton, Ohio native still considers himself to be a fan of Buckeyes basketball and tries to catch as many games on TV as he possibly can from his home in California. And while the former New York Knick has been impressed with the effort of this year's OSU squad, Lucas sees what most others do when they look at the Buckeyes: a team that can't put the ball in the bucket.
"They're talented, but they don't shoot the ball well. That seems to be the thing that lacks most in this team. They just aren't consistent shooters," the 1980 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said. "They work hard and play good defense, but if you don't put the ball in the hole on a consistent basis you're going to have some problems. Just from a consistency standpoint, that seems to hurt them for than anything else."
That doesn't, however, leave Lucas any less excited this season's NCAA Tournament, where he truly made his mark during his college career. An expanded tournament, the three-point line, and the NBA's one-and-done rule may have changed the game from the time that he played it, but Lucas still sees March Madness as one of the most unique times of the year.
"When I played there were only 16 teams in the tournament. You had to win the Big Ten just to get in. Now you don't have to win anything. That's a tremendous difference. It generates far more interest than it did years ago, because more teams from more parts of the country are involved. More people get excited," Lucas said. "I love the college game. I still enjoy it. The NCAA Tournament is the best sporting event every year in America."
While Lucas hasn't minded some changes in the college game, one that he would not like to see is the discussed movement to provide payment to its athletes. Spending his time at Ohio State on an academic scholarship and crafting a successful teaching career for himself post-basketball, Lucas understands the value of a college education, and would like to see today's players make the most of the opportunity in front of them, both on the court and off.
"They're an amateur, they ought to remain an amateur. They aren't a pro. They shouldn't be paid in my opinion. They're student-athletes. It should be students first and athletes second," Lucas said. "Things are changing, life changes, but I hope it remains the way things are and they don't receive money. I think that's important for amateurism."
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