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Ohio State's Dials, Matta share awards with team


Published: Wed, March 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The Boardman High graduate was named the conference's top player.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Thad Matta is not one of those self-assured coaches who never doubts himself. Far from it.
"I'll be completely honest with you, every night I drive home and I say, 'I don't know what the heck I'm doing,' " the Ohio State coach said Tuesday.
Evidently his colleagues disagree.
Matta's fellow Big Ten coaches named him coach of the year Tuesday, and center Terence Dials from Boardman was tabbed as the conference's top player.
Matta leads a team of overachievers that has rocketed into the national consciousness with a 23-4 record.
The Buckeyes, unranked in December but up to No. 7 now, were a pleasant surprise a year ago when they finished sixth in the Big Ten. A year later, they captured the school's first outright conference title in 14 years.
Ohio State's performance this season illustrates how Matta's players believe in him far more than he believes in himself.
Dials was more comfortable talking about everything Matta has done for the team than he was talking about his own award.
"You can't put it into words," said Dials, a 6-foot-9 senior, when asked about Matta's role in the Buckeyes' turnaround. "He took a team that was supposed to be seventh in the Big Ten to No. 1.
"I mean, what he does is beyond what you see on the court. It goes so much further than that. He's getting the respect he deserves. And there's more to come."
Guard Je'Kel Foster, named second-team All-Big Ten, committed to Ohio State two years ago when he was coming out of junior college.
Leaves Xavier
Then coach Jim O'Brien was fired for what the NCAA determined were rules violations and Matta was hired away from Xavier before Foster arrived on campus.
Foster said he toyed with the idea of going elsewhere, but one phone call from Matta erased any doubts.
"I was anxious to find out what kind of a guy he was," Foster said. "Once we had the first conversation on the phone, we kind of hit it off. I knew he was the kind of guy I wanted to play for and I'm glad I made that decision to come here."
Great teams seem to follow Matta around, for reasons that elude him. He is harshly critical of the job he does, yet his teams -- his first one at his alma mater, Butler, three at Xavier, and the past two at Ohio State -- all have won 20 games.
"I feel completely blessed in my coaching career, first the places I've been able to coach and, two, the kids I've been able to coach," he said. "If you look at my young coaching career ... all three have been great basketball schools. I'd like to take some credit for it, but I can't."
Matta said people miss the point when they say Ohio State doesn't have a lot of great players.
"Quite honestly, the one thing that people may overlook is three fifth-year seniors on the team and a fourth senior -- that's great experience," he said. "I wouldn't say that the talent is low.
"They've proven that on given nights there are guys who are capable of stepping up and having big nights. You look at the four seniors, each guy has had over a 20-point game. The hard part as a coach is putting it all together."
Top seed at tourney
The Buckeyes are the top seed at this week's Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. They meet the Penn State-Northwestern winner Friday at noon.
Dials is a prime example of why the Buckeyes have flourished this year. He was almost an offensive afterthought midway through the Big Ten season as Ohio State won games with eye-popping 3-point shooting by Foster, vastly improved point guard Jamar Butler and jumping-jack forward J.J. Sullinger.
Down the stretch as the Buckeyes won nine of their last 10 games, however, Dials was the go-to guy.
Matta said Dials is a part of the whole, a bunch of guys who are far better together than they are individually and have bought into that concept.
"When I got here, there was a lot of negative vibes floating around about the program," Matta said. "But once you get into the daily grind and you get to know these guys and see that they're willing to pay the price, then you think that anything's possible."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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