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February 21, 2013

Della Valle earning playing time

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The loudest ovation of the night in Ohio State's win over Minnesota on Wednesday came not for a Deshaun Thomas jumper, an Aaron Craft steal, or a Sam Thompson slam. Rather, it was a three-pointer from Amedeo Della Valle with the game already out of hand and the Buckeyes' bench emptied that drew the biggest eruption from the 16,378 in attendance at the Schottenstein Center.

This wasn't completely unexpected, however. In fact, borderline standing ovations for Della Valle have almost become customary during the freshman guard's debut season in Columbus.

The lone member of Thad Matta's 2012 recruiting class, Della Valle isn't a walk-on, although you wouldn't know it by the excitement that his scarce playing time generates. With pleads from fans to show off his signature three-point shot, the Findlay Prep product often aims to please, but also knows that he has to draw the line somewhere.

"I love it, honestly," Della Valle said of his fanfare. "I love the fans, they love me. I don't know why. Sometimes it's hard. I get the ball at half court and I want to shoot it, and I can't really do that."

A three-star prospect who has appeared in just 12 of the Buckeyes' first 26 games this season, it would've been easy for fans to forget about Della Valle, but that's been anything but the case. Perhaps due to his floppy hair, thick-rimmed glasses, or presence on Twitter, it hasn't taken long for the native of Alba, Italy to develop a cult following in his college career.

"Look at him," Craft said with a smile when asked why fans seem to gravitate to his younger teammate. "He's just a really cool guy and it's great to have him on the team."

While his unique look and skill-set might be what endears him to fans, it's been Della Valle's effort and basketball I.Q. that has made him a favorite of Matta's.

Referring to the 6-foot-5, 190-pounder as one of the smartest players that he's coached, Matta has taken notice of the support that Della Valle has provided his teammates with from the bench throughout the season. Earlier this year, the OSU head coach admitted that he'd like to see his lone freshman put on some muscle in the weight room before giving him more consistent playing time, but that no longer appears to be a deal-breaker.

After Lenzelle Smith Jr. picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the Buckeyes' go-round with the Golden Gophers, Matta was forced to insert point guard Shannon Scott into the game earlier than he typically does. As a result, when it came time to sub out Craft just a minute later, Matta opted to give Della Valle his earliest playing time of the season.

Della Valle responded, instantly pulling down a rebound, much to the delight of those in attendance. After playing for a three-minute stretch in the first half, the Buckeyes' sharpshooter returned to the game with four minutes remaining in the contest, where he sank two 3-pointers to help seal Ohio State's 71-45 victory.

"Amedeo has really, really played well the last couple of weeks, every day in practice," Matta said. "I like his energy, I like his basketball savvy and understanding of what we're trying to do. The biggest thing with that young man is he just cares. He cares so much about the team. Guys like that have notoriously in this program done very well for us."

A long way from home, Della Valle has admitted to feeling homesick at times during his first year of college. But between basketball, schoolwork, and his new following around campus, he's certainly found plenty of ways to keep his mind occupied.

"College life is no joke," Della Valle said. "The adjustment is not all that easy, especially for a freshman, but I love it here and I love playing with these guys. I think we have a great group of people and the point is to get better every day. Maybe I'm not ready today, but maybe next year."

If the past week was any indication, he may not even have to wait that long.



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