By Bobby Kirschenbaum
March: The month where college basketball sleeper teams make headlines and young stars prove their future value. D’Angelo Russell, the star guard for the Buckeyes of Ohio State University, has fully embraced the opportunity in this March Madness NCAA tournament to put his talents on display. In the first round of this year’s tournament, as a 10 seed, Ohio State faced the challenge of playing 7 seeded VCU, a team that wrecks havoc on defense and forces opposing players to play on their heels. However, even as a freshman, Russell was as cool and calm as could be, showing poise similar to that of an NBA veteran. Near the end of regulation, Russell was nailed with an elbow that sent blood dripping down the side of his face. However, he did not want to be taken out of the game, refusing to miss a minute, and he came back with a vengeance. He carried his team to overtime, scoring four points in the extra period, and led the underdog Buckeyes past the Rams in a 75-72 overtime thriller. Russell finished the game with 28 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Following its narrow victory versus VCU, the Buckeyes faced the daunting challenge of playing the 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats. From the jump ball, it was evident that Ohio State was no match for Arizona’s fast paced offense, as the Wildcats dismantled the Buckeyes sloppy defense in a 73-58 victory. Yet, with all that went wrong in the game for Ohio State, Russell’s performance was certainly the one bright spot. He finished the game with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Although it was definitely an off night shooting for Russell, he still did everything he could to try to keep the Buckeye’s Cinderella run alive.
Throughout the course of the year, D’Angelo Russell has proven time and time again why he will be a top pick in the NBA draft. Only a freshman, Russell averaged 19.3 points per game to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, and most collegiate athletes do not even reach their full potential until their later college years. Thus, Russell’s game is only going to get better and better.
Coming into the season, anyone who tracks college players knew Russell would be an electrifying guard with quickness and versatility. However, one game in particular stood out when reflecting upon an incredible season from the young star. It was on January 29th, when the 16th ranked Maryland Terps visited the unranked Buckeyes in a game at the Value City Arena in Ohio. It was a packed crowd as every fan wanted to see how Russell would do against a fast paced offense led by Dez Wells and Melo Trimble. It was only an 8 point game at the half, until Russell absolutely demolished the Maryland defense during the second half, leading his team to a decisive 80-56 point victory. Russell finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. At 6’5, 180 pounds, his huge frame for a guard has not only brought him great success in college thus far, but has also earned him the reputation as arguably the best freshman in college basketball, behind only Jahlil Okafor of Duke.
NBA teams have had their eye on Russell. In a game earlier in the season against Nebraska, Phil Jackson, the President of the Knicks, was in attendance to see Russell perform. As the Knicks currently hold the worst record in basketball, and are in desperate need of a guard, Russell could potentially become the point guard the Knicks have been looking for.
Although it is just about certain that Russell has played his final game in a Buckeyes uniform, the only question left is which team will select the outstanding freshman in the draft, who is likely to be a top 10 pick. In a recent mock draft, the experts project Russell to be selected second overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, Ricky Rubio has a starting role there, so it could be the Knicks who snag him at one, barring the lottery. It won’t be long before the 21-year-old trades in his Buckeyes jersey for one with the desired NBA logo. And for this week, D’Angelo Russell is my choice for the Athlete on the Rise.