Ohio State starter finds perfect home after early misfire

Ohio State starter finds perfect home after early misfire

   COLUMBUS, Ohio  The last time Illinois played Ohio State, its biggest pain wasnt named Scoonie Penn or Michael Redd. In fact, the sore spot wasnt even a starter.

   George Reese came off the bench in early January and scored a career-best 24 points against the Illini. The Illinois players were left shaking their heads, wondering, Where did that guy come from?

   Well, its a long story.

   After a solid career at Independence (Ohio) High School, Reese took a scholarship offer from South Florida.

   The Tampa school sounded great. Beautiful weather, nice school, solid basketball. But Reeses fun didnt last long.

   He wanted on the court. Coach Bobby Paschal used everyone else.

   When the guys ahead of you are not playing well, and youre killing them every day in practice, you should get your chance, Reese said. I wasnt getting my chance because I was a freshman.

   If I was going to be that far away from home, I wanted to be playing.

   The situation turned worse when Paschal was fired. Reese decided to try another school. He returned to Ohio and took classes at Columbus State Community College.

   With his Division I clock ticking, Reese needed to get back on the court. He thought he had a scholarship lined up at Miami of Ohio, but that fell through.

   During the summer, former John A. Logan College player Mitch Hankins spotted Reese in Columbus. He got on the phone with his old coach, Mark Imhoff.

   He called me and said, Coach, theres a guy on my summer league team that you need to take a look at,  Imhoff said. It was as simple as that.

   Imhoff watched Reese, liked what he saw and offered the player a chance to restart his career in Carterville. Reese accepted.

   When youre in the juco world, theres nothing thats too complicated, Imhoff said.

   Reeses biggest fear about a junior college was being in a remote area. That wasnt a problem at John A. Logan, where students stay in dormitories on the Southern Illinois campus in Carbondale.

   A majority of the junior colleges are out in the middle of nowhere, Reese said. I didnt want to be staying in a house with 13 other guys every day.

   Imhoff and Reese hit it off. The coach appreciated his new players work ethic and attitude. And Reese was happy to be on the court again after a bad experience at South Florida.

   Georges success is not by accident, Imhoff said. He was the hardest-working individual we had. Hes continued that to be able to get to the level he is.

   In one year at John A. Logan, Reese averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds. He was good enough to be named a second-team All-American and draw attention from several Division I schools.

   Reese was much better prepared to be recruited the second time.

   In recruiting, everybody throws the bull at you, Reese said. Whos really sincere?

   Minnesota, Pittsburgh and South Alabama tried. But when Ohio State called, Reese found his new home.

   Guys who are as good as George was for us at the junior college level, it would have been very easy for him to go to a place where he was the man, Imhoff said. The opportunity to go home and go back to Ohio State, when that came into the picture, it took everything else out.

   He had a point to prove. There were certainly some people who did not believe he could play at that level.

   He averaged 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while adjusting to the Big Ten as a junior. The numbers werent nearly as important to Reese as the final result: Ohio State earned a spot in the Final Four.

   As a senior, Reese has blossomed. Hes third on the team in scoring with a 12.1 average. He has been even better in Big Ten games, averaging 13.7.

   Hes become a viable option on offense. Hes become a double-figure scorer and a guy that the other teams really have to pay attention to when theyre on defense, Ohio State coach Jim OBrien said. Because if not, as was evidenced when we played Illinois the last time, hes capable of putting up some good numbers.

   After missing Reeses breakout game against the Illini earlier in the season, Imhoff and assistant Brent Baker flew Wednesday to Columbus to see the Buckeyes rout Northwestern. Reese had a big game for his former coaches, scoring 16 points.

   This is sometimes a crazy business, Imhoff said. Its guys like George who make it worthwhile. We dont fly off to see everybody.

   There was a time when juco transfers werent made welcome in the Big Ten. League rules forced the players to sit out a year after their transfer.

   That would have been real awful in my situation, Reese said.

   It certainly was a disadvantage to our kids, the junior college kids, in regards to an opportunity to go to a Big Ten institution, Imhoff said.

   Reese rattles off the star players who were part of his junior college class: Steve Francis, Chris Porter and Pete Mickeal.

   A lot of teams are going to start looking at more junior college players, Reese said.


Nice additions

   Several Big Ten schools are getting a lift from junior college transfers. The News-Gazettes All-Juco Transfer team:

   Rob Griffin, Iowa, Michigan native has his hot streaks. Just ask Illinois, which he burned for 20 at the Assembly Hall

   Marcus Griffin, Illinois, Knee injury partially to blame for drop in his scoring average during conference season

   Jacob Jaacks, Iowa, Bad hair doesnt mean the guy cant play. Hawkeyes would be 5-20 without him

   George Reese, Ohio State, Leaving South Florida after his freshman year the best thing that ever happened to him

   Lynn Washington, Indiana, Earned his spot on the team with thunderous dunk against Illinois on Tuesday