Note: This recap appears in the Friday, May 24 newspaper on Page B1.
It was a long search, often frustrating, but Jeff Boals finally found what he was looking for.
Boals, and the Ohio men’s basketball team, secured a commitment from graduate transfer Sylvester Ogbonda this week. Ogbonda, a 6-10 center who graduated from Georgia Tech this spring, represents one glaring need that Boals hoped to address this spring in recruiting.
The Bobcats needed a starting center, one that had some playing experience. Now, Ohio apparently has one.
“You got to find a kid who is the right fit, No. 1,” Boals said about the search for an experienced big man this spring. “We obviously have playing time to sell.”
Ohio brought in a handful of prospective centers to campus over the last six weeks. But it wasn’t until Ogbonda’s visit this week that the Bobcats received a coveted ‘yes.’
Boals tweeted as much on Wednesday, referencing the sixth player linked to Ohio this spring. Ogbonda made his own announcement on his own social media page.
Ohio graduated two-year starting center Doug Taylor this spring. Sophomore forward Jason Carter left the program to transfer to Xavier. That left only redshirt freshman forward Ben Vander Plas as the only front-court player on the roster with any playing experience at the Division I level.
Ohio returns freshman center Nathan Springs, who redshirted last season, and has signed incoming freshman Nolan Foster for 2019-20. Springs and Foster both fall into the ‘stretch 5’ category — they’re comfortable facing up and shooting the 3 — but both will be green when the 2019-20 season begins in terms of playing time.
Ogbonda will help bridge that gap. He appeared in 42 games over the last three seasons at Georgia Tech, is now a college graduate, and will have a measure of experience and physicality that neither Springs nor Foster will have when the season begins.
“Getting that big with experience is the one thing we really have to find this spring,” Boals said in April. “We’ll keep looking until we find one.”
In Ogbonda, the Bobcats are getting a center tempered by four years at a power program in the ACC. Ogbonda, dogged by knee and ankle injuries in his third season, never matriculated his way to the top of the rotation with Georgia Tech.
Ogbondo appeared in 42 games with the Yellow Jackets, and finished his career there with 48 rebounds, 46 personal fouls, 12 blocked shots and 61 points. He averaged just five minutes per appearance.
Ogbonda appeared in 23 games as a redshirt freshman in 2016-17, and saw his opportunities lessened in each of the following two seasons. He appeared in just nine games — while dealing with injuries — in 2017-18, and last season appeared in just 10 games while acting as the team’s third-team center.
Ogbonda moved to the United States, from Nigeria, when he was 15, and proceeded to develop into a three-star recruit while at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md. He was rated by one service as the 26th-best center in the 2015 recruiting class, and Ogbonda was a valedictorian of his high school graduating class.
Ogbonda is long, mobile and athletic. He doesn’t shoot the 3 — he has no career attempts from long range at Georgia Tech — but at Ohio he’ll be in line for the type of minutes he never saw as a Yellow Jacket.
Ogbonda’s addition means Ohio has added six new players to the 2019-20 roster since Boals was hired in March. The Bobcats had seven scholarship openings — three graduates and three transfers — and will still have one opening heading into the summer months.
“We could hold it,” Boals said. “If the right person pops up, we’ll use it. Just kind of depends.”
Here’s a breakdown of Ohio’s scholarship roster for 2019-20, with players slotted into their eligibility class for the next academic year.
Sylvester Ogbonda (6-10, center), Georgia Tech graduate
Jordan Dartis (6-3 G), redshirted in 2018-19
Connor Murrell (6-7 F/G), rotational player last season
Jay Preston (6-3 PG), returning starter, All-MAC Freshman Team
Ben Vander Plas (6-8), 2019 MAC Freshman of the Year
Nate Springs (6-10, C), redshirted in 2018-19
Mason McMurray (6-7, F), redshirted in 2018-19
Lunden McDay (6-3, G), incoming freshman (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s)
Ben Roderick (6-5, G/F), incoming freshman (Olentangy Liberty)
Marvin Price (6-5, F/G), incoming freshman (Patterson HS, Baltimore, Md.)
Miles Brown (6-2, PG), incoming freshman (Northstar Academy, Rochester, N.Y.)
Nolan Foster (6-10, C), incoming freshman (Mattawan HS, Mich.)
PG — Preston, Brown
WG — Dartis, McDay, Roderick, Price
WF — Vander Plas, Murrell, McMurray
C — Ogbonda, Springs, Foster