It's been all about Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. this year.
Those are the two freshmen that have helped — along with senior Ron Lewis
— carry the Ohio State Buckeyes to the Final Four.
It's been Oden's inside presence, Conley's court savvy and big shots from
Lewis that have stolen most of the spotlight.
Believe it or not, Daequan Cook came to Columbus with loftier credentials
than Conley. He was considered, along with North Carolina's Wayne Ellington, to
be among the elite shooting guards in America.
Many figured Cook would have gone to the NBA directly out of Dayton Dunbar
High. But Cook planned on playing for the Buckeyes even if the NBA hadn't
imposed an age limit
``I'd still be here," he said. "I felt like I still need a lot to
improve on and that I needed to play in college."
David Lighty was at one time regarded as one of the top players in the
country before a torn ACL kept him off the AAU circuit in his junior season.
Now each has accepted a role that will be critical if Thad Matta's team is
able to get past Georgetown in the national semifinals.
Early on, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Cook was averaging about 25 minutes per
game and going for 20-plus points. He scored 22 in his first collegiate game
against VMI and had 22 a week later against Eastern Kentucky.
But his playing time started to decrease as the season wore on, primarily
because of his defense. When he's not making shots, it's been difficult for
Matta to keep on the floor.
``That's the main reason why I'm not playing as much," Cook
acknowledged. "I'm making some mistakes defensively — things we've gone
over a thousand times in practice. I'm still making them."
Cook is averaging 5.2 points in his last six games, but didn't log a single
minute in the second half of the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 win over Tennessee. He was,
however, a key contributor against Memphis with nine points and two steals in 16
``We don't win the game without him," Ohio State assistant coach John
Groce said of Cook's performance against the Tigers.
Despite his inconsistent play, Cook is the team's most prolific 3-point
shooter. He's making shots beyond the arc at a 42 percent clip, and Matta will
need Cook against the Hoyas.
Lighty's role may be even more important. While Ohio State will almost
certainly play quite a bit of zone defensively, Lighty could be assigned to the
task of having to try and contain versatile junior Jeff Green when the Buckeyes
Lighty, who averaged 25.5 points a year ago at Villa-Angela St. Joseph High
in Cleveland, has gone from a scorer to a defensive specialist. He understands
it and doesn't mind a bit.
``It really doesn't matter," Lighty said. "As long as I'm happy,
that's all that matters."
They are happy because both Cook and Lighty realize their time will come —
and it could be as soon as Saturday night.