COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Albeit for different reasons, Ohio State players and coaches alike had hesitations about the Buckeyes starting their 2012-13 season playing in tonight's Carrier Classic.
OSU head coach Thad Matta was worried about the distractions that playing their season opener outdoors and on an aircraft carrier could cause for his team. Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas was just worried about staying aboard the boat.
"I'm going to try to stay away from the edge," Thomas joked. "I've never played on water before. That's kind of scary."
It wasn't until a moment of clarity for the Buckeyes that they lost their apprehensions about playing in tonight's season opener. That's when Matta and his players thought about the veterans and members of the armed forces that will be attending the game in Charleston, S.C., with proceeds from the event benefitting charitable organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Fund.
"Throughout the course of the summer I was kind of asking myself, 'Why did I sign up for this?'" Matta said. "I went to the luncheon in New York City and they were talking about the people that were going to be at the game, and it definitely brought home to me what this game is about. You look at basketball and college basketball and it's a billion dollar industry, but this game obviously has a lot more meaning to it."
What tonight's game represents hasn't been lost on OSU point guard Aaron Craft, whose brother, Brandon Craft, is currently wrapping up a tour of Afghanistan as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.
With his younger sister, Cait Craft- a member of the OSU women's basketball team- also in Charleston for her game aboard the USS Yorktown against Notre Dame tonight, Aaron is looking forward to the sentimental memories that tonight could create for his entire family, but was also quick to note that if anything, this is a business trip for the Buckeyes.
"It's just going to be a good experience for my entire family," Aaron said. "Once it comes game time, you kind of get in the zone. It's basketball from there."
Joining the Buckeyes aboard the USS Yorktown tonight will be Marquette, a Sweet 16 team from just a season ago that enters the new college basketball year unranked, despite compiling a 27-8 record in 2011-12. OSU forward Deshaun Thomas has been impressed by what he's seen on film from the Golden Eagles, who he described as a "physical team."
"They try to pressure you, try to make you turn the ball over. They try to make you panic.," Thomas assessed. "They're just a good team. They like to try to execute off of energy plays; steals, 50-50 balls, dunks at the other end."
Without a double-digit scorer returning from last season's squad, Marquette will certainly need somebody to step up big for it to hang with the No. 4 ranked Buckeyes, but the Golden Eagles won't be the only opponent that Ohio State will be battling tonight.
With winds of two miles per hour forecasted for tipoff tonight in a game being played outdoors, the Buckeyes will be forced to deal with the unique opportunity of having weather conditions affect their play for the first and only time this season. That's fine with Craft, who noted that not only will the environment affect both teams, but that OSU has the perfect player on its roster for this sort of game.
"One thing I know is that if someone's going to find a way to shoot the ball through the wind, it's going to be my guy right here," Craft said, pointing to Thomas. "He'll find a way to put the ball in the basket."
Thomas agreed, noting that he learned to play basketball in adverse weather conditions while growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind. But although he's confident that he'll be able to put the ball in the bucket, rain or shine, tonight, the preseason All-American is anything but worry-free heading into tonight's season opener.
"If I dive on the ground, I'm angling to make sure I dive in the water," Thomas said. "I'm gonna leave that to Craft though. Hopefully if he sees me dive in, he'll try to catch me if I go deep in the water."