The last froshs standing.
That's what Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and David Lighty have
Those four players were the headliners of the Thad Five — arguably the best
recruiting class in the country a year ago when Thad Matta inked them, along
with Othello Hunter, to play at Ohio State.
Then the debate began.
Was the Thad Five even the best class in the country? North Carolina fans
boasted that Roy Williams' six-man haul, which included Brandan Wright, Ty
Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Deon Thompson, was more potent.
How about the Texas group that featured this year's National Player of the
Year, Kevin Durant, and fellow freshman D.J. Augustin?
Well, Oden and Conley and the rest of the Thad Five are still playing while
the rest of the highly touted freshmen in the Class of 2006 are watching.
No one else of note (except for the underrated DaJuan Summers of Georgetown)
Washington's Spencer Hawes didn't even get to the Big Dance. Thaddeus Young,
Javaris Crittenton and Georgia Tech got just a sniff before making an early
exit. Kansas' Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins almost got to Atlanta, but came
up short against UCLA in the Elite Eight.
Wright, Lawson, Ellington and Thompson were also one step away, but they are
back home in Chapel Hill, too.
And the funny thing is Oden wasn't even supposed to make it to Columbus.
He was slated to be at the next level right now if not for NBA commish David
Stern's rule that high school kids can't go straight to the NBA nowadays.
So instead, Oden and his best friend, Conley, have done exactly what everyone
anticipated: Carry the Buckeyes to Atlanta.
The best part is how they've done it.
Oden has never offered a single excuse after coming back quickly from major
wrist surgery that kept him out the entire summer. He has shot free throws
left-handed and didn't have the use of his right hand for a good portion of the
Oden always had the bulls-eye on his chest as the No. 1 player in the
country, but he never carried himself in the same brash manner as guys like
LeBron James or O.J. Mayo.
Conley took a back seat to guys like Lawson, Collins, Crittenton and Augustin
when the topic of the elite freshman point guards in the country came up.
Can't shoot. Too small.
Well, the mild-mannered Conley has proven all the critics wrong.
He may not have the speed or the flash of Lawson, but his poise is second to
none when it comes to running a team. He never gets rattled, makes terrific
decisions and just finds a way to get the job done.
Cook is the enigma of the group. His talent level is off the charts and at
times, he's the best player on the floor. However, at other times, he's
invisible. He was another recruit who may never have ended up playing a minute
of college basketball if not for the newly implemented age limit.
Cook's inconsistent play, especially on the defensive end of the floor, has
been the primary reason why his minutes and production have dwindled recently.
While his role has decreased, my guess is that Ellington and guys like Duke's
Jonathan Scheyer are still envious.
Lighty was at one time a legitimate two-sport star before a knee injury
during his junior season in high school set him back. He was considered to be an
elite player, but now he's filled a critical role for Matta's Buckeyes as an
athletic defensive stopper who brings energy to the court.
The four freshmen, with some help from senior Ron Lewis, have found a way to
battle back from a trio of second-half deficits in the Big Dance thus far. They
have helped reel off 21 straight wins — with the last setback coming on Jan. 9
Matta has been able to do it because of as highly a touted freshman class
that has ever come through Columbus. Some have even compared it to Michigan's
However, Chris Webber & Co. never won a national title. Oden and Conley
still have a shot.