David Lighty Sr., right, kisses his son, Ohio State guard David Lighty, after Ohio State's 98-66 win over George Mason in an East regional NCAA college basketball tournament third-round game Sunday, March 20, 2011, in Cleveland. Lighty scored 25 points and made seven 3-point shots to lead Ohio State into the Sweet 16.
Senior keeps Ohio State stars focused on NCAA title bid
There’s a film clip that Ohio State coach Thad Matta loves showing to his players.
It’s not of a great victory, a stirring last-second shot or even a painful defeat.
It features David Lighty, who had unknowingly broken a bone in his foot earlier in the Dec. 17, 2008, game against Jacksonville, continuing to play.
“He’s got a broken foot. And he’s running back and he makes this incredible effort and steals a pass,” Matta said. “The point [or the players watching it] is, you’re perfectly healthy and you’re not playing hard. This guy’s got a broken foot and this is the energy he gives us.”
Lighty is probably not the first person you’d notice on Ohio State’s powerhouse basketball team.
Jared Sullinger, the meaty freshman center? Sure. Or maybe silky smooth shooter William Buford or 3-point specialist Jon Diebler.
But make no mistake about it: The fulcrum of the Buckeyes is the fifth-year senior who’s been through so much.
“I’ve said since the beginning: I love him. I think he’s the [Big Ten] MVP. He probably won’t get it because people aren’t smart enough,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said earlier this season. “He does everything that you need to win the game. Nothing against Sullinger, he’s tremendous. The other guys are great. But Lighty, to me, is their heart and soul and he’s the reason they win.”
There are no bronze figures outside the team’s home arena. But Matta — who has coached two national players of the year (David West at Xavier, Evan Turner at Ohio State) — believes there should be some kind of a memorial to the tenacity of Lighty.
“I think they should put a statue in front of the Schottenstein Center of David Lighty, just what he’s meant to this program, not only on the court,” Matta said after a win this season. “I’ve always said this, David Lighty, he’s been here for five years and I don’t think he’s ever gotten close to the credit he deserves for the player he is, just the kid he is. You don’t do the things that he’s done during his career here.”
Others might have gaudy scoring averages or make the nightly highlights with a vicious slam dunk. David Lighty wins. Plain and simple. End of discussion.
He enters top-seeded and top-ranked Ohio State’s NCAA regional semifinal game against Kentucky on Friday night in Newark, N.J., as the winningest Buckeye ever. He’s won 129 games at Ohio State, and wants nothing than to win four more.
“Like I always say, you stick around long enough you’re going to break some records,” he said. Then, laughing, he added, “I’ve been here eight years.”
Not really. It just must seem like that to opponents.
He came to Ohio State in one of the most acclaimed recruiting classes ever in 2006, with center Greg Oden, shooter Daequan Cook and point guard Mike Conley Jr., who all moved on to the NBA after a 35-4 season that ended with a loss in the national championship game.
The 6-foot-5 swingman was a cornerstone of the next team that went 24-13 and won the NIT. Freshman Kosta Koufos starred on that team, and then went in the first round of the NBA draft after one season.
A consummate lockdown defender against a guard or even a center, Lighty was an integral part of teams that went 22-11 in 2008-09 and 29-8 a year ago. This year, the Buckeyes are 34-2.
Mixed in there were broken bones in his feet that cost him all but the first seven games of the ’08-09 season and most of this past summer after he sustained the same injury in May.