Sibert Surveys His Future
April 03, 2012
The college basketball season has ended, the Kentucky Wildcats have been crowned champion, and other elite programs already are positioning to be able to take it off their head.
This, of course, includes Ohio State – although head coach Thad Matta has more than the usual offseason concerns and question marks after guiding the Buckeyes to a 31-8 season that just ended in New Orleans at the Final Four.
First of all, the program direction will take an immediate hit or receive a jolt after sophomore center Jared Sullinger and junior forward Deshaun Thomas decide if they are staying put or throwing their hit into the ring for NBA draft consideration.
Early signs point to the 6-9 Sullinger leaning heavily on a departure and the 6-7 Thomas, who found a hot streak during the postseason, at least exploring the possibility. They don’t have long to figure it out: The deadline for underclassmen declaring early entry has been moved up to April 10.
Also, Matta is waiting to see if his staff will remain intact. When his former aide, John Groce, was hired as the new head coach at Illinois, that opened the door at Ohio University and immediately put OSU assistant Jeff Boals, a former Bobcat, at the forefront of the discussion for a replacement.
However, that door closed quickly when OU athletic director Jim Schaus tabbed TCU coach Jim Christian for the job – which is expected to become official during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
There were rumors of outside interest in fellow Ohio State assistants Dave Dickerson and Chris Jent, but nothing that has reached a serious level as of now.
If Matta is able to keep his staff he no doubt is asking his assistants to keep their eyes open to adding an impact freshman to the roster. OSU signed no recruits in the fall but is still in on a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans who remain undecided – Georgia big man Tony Parker and Pennsylvania forward Amile Jefferson. However, Parker still lists at least a half-dozen schools and has been mum on his intentions while reports continue to link Jefferson to ACC schools N.C. State and Duke.
While juggling the priorities with his star players, top recruits and staff, Matta also has to deal with the possibility of a transfer or two. The two players most likely to explore other avenues are sophomores J.D. Weatherspoon and Jordan Sibert.
Weatherspoon is Sullinger’s former high school teammate and hasn’t been happy with a lack of playing time, although his opportunity for court time would receive a major boost if Thomas bolts for the NBA.
Sibert, it would appear, has even more reason to be disgruntled and to look elsewhere. A 6-4, 185-pound off-guard from Cincinnati Princeton who once faced Sullinger and Weatherspoon in the high school state championship game, Sibert arrived with much promise and familiarity with the staff and incoming players.
He was a standout at Princeton and for the All-Ohio Red AAU squad that also featured current Buckeyes Sullinger, Weatherspoon and Aaron Craft as well as Michigan State center Adreian Payne.
As a freshman in 2010-11, Sibert played in 25 games and hinted at the possibility of joining Craft, William Buford, Thomas and Sullinger in the starting lineup with the departure of shooting guard Jon Diebler. Instead, classmate Lenzelle Smith Jr. won that spot and held it down with a breakout season.
Sibert’s minutes actually went up from 8.3 a game to 11.4, but he appeared in only 24 games and did not see any court time in Ohio State’s five NCAA Tournament contests.
In fact, Sibert’s last minutes of the season came in mop-up time of a blowout of Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Afterward, SportsRappUp.com sought out Sibert for an exclusive interview to find out his thoughts regarding the season and his future.
“It’s just a frustrating situation,” he admitted. “You try to stay positive and try to do the things you can for your team but it’s just kind of frustrating when you don’t get the minutes that you feel that you’ve worked hard for and that you and people don’t agree on certain things. But you try to keep getting better and just try to make the best of the moment when you’ve got it.”
Sibert played at least seven minutes and as many as 24 in the first 17 games of the season. That includes a 20-minute outing in the Big Ten opener with Northwestern on Dec. 28 in which he scored a career-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
Sibert played in the next three games but as a combined 0 for 8 from long range. He didn’t play at Illinois and saw just a minute vs. Indiana – after Smith lit up the Hoosiers for a career-high 28 points and produced his own outing with four made three-pointers.
Smith had solidified his role but Sibert sunk deeper down the bench even when Matta continued to look for some punch from his reserves.
In the closing months of February and March, Sibert made just four appearances totaling 11 minutes while never quite knowing why he fallen completely out of favor.
“I’ve looked for an explanation,” he told SRU. “I don’t know what it is. I haven’t gotten one. Since I don’t know, I just want to become the best basketball player I can become.”
Even though his oncourt smile has vanished, Sibert said he has focused on trying to better his game and not detract from the goals and camaraderie of the team.
“You don’t let your personal feelings interfere with the team, especially when you’ve got a lot going on,” he said. “You tend to want to show you’re frustrated and you want to show your anger, but you’ve got to remember that you’re playing for a team, not an individual sport, so you try to pull it together.
“You can always take it out on the gym and get better, but whenever you’re involved with the team it’s team first.”
Sibert admits he’s been in a funk at times about his predicament but he gets constant advice and encouragement from his brother and mentor, Logan Brogdon.
“He tells me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t lose your work ethic and don’t let your frustrations lead you away from working out, lead you away from working out,’ ” he said. “I think people can see when I do get in there I can still play, I can still make shots. That’s because I kept working on it. So I’m just taking advantage of the gym time I have to get better.”
Sibert also received moral support during the season from his teammates, one in particular.
“It’s definitely Will Buford,” he said. “He’s been helping me throughout this whole thing and he’s like my big brother on the team. He’s been staying close to me and we’re just grinding through it together.”
Sibert said even on nights when he knew there was little chance of peeling off his warm-ups and entering the game, he made sure to watch how Buford – a senior who ended tied with Jerry Lucas for third on the school’s all-time scoring list – carried himself and performed.
“One thing that I’ve grown to respect about him is Will will always be Will,” he said. “I think people will learn to appreciate him so much more when they just appreciate him for being him. He’s a scorer. He’s going to have off nights. He’s a hard worker, he’s a great leader.”
Sibert knows what it’s like to be the leading scorer on your team one night and struggling to find your jumper on the next, but he feels many fans don’t understand that phenomenon.
“A lot of people don’t realize free jump shots vs. contested jump shots, it’s so much harder than what it seems to be,” said Sibert, who has shot 30.4 percent from the field including 26.0 percent from three-point range this season. “Yes, we catch hot days sometimes but it is hard. It’s easy to sit in the stands and say, ‘Hey, this guy should sit down. He’s not making any shots.’ But if you’re not out there actually shooting, you can’t really judge us. You have to take the good with the bad.
“You can’t just love us one day because we hit six threes and hate us the next day because you only made one.”
Sibert’s teammates have seen his frustration and have tried to remind him that he can still do other things on the court and also have a positive impact on practice.
“I just tell Jordan to just come in and play, and play hard,” Sullinger said. “I told him at halftime of this game today (vs. Michigan on March 10) that if it wasn’t for him, Q (LaQuinton Ross), J.D., Trey (McDonald), Amir (Williams), Shannon (Scott), Sam (Thompson), for them being on the gray squad and competing as hard as they do, this basketball team wouldn’t be nowhere without them.
“Nobody sees that. Everybody sees the people who are playing on the floor, but when you go against guys at this top level who could play at pretty much any other school if they wanted to, being such high recruits, it’s big. They don’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff with all them guys and how they help us. Because when they’re attacking us, they step up our competition.”
That may have been enough for Sibert to realize some worth and get through his trying sophomore season. But it’s doubtful it will be enough to keep him from transferring to another program after logging two-year averages of just 2.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game at Ohio State.
“I’ll just reassess everything, try to figure out answers, try to come with something,” he said. “But I’ll definitely re-evaluate everything, talk to some people and see what they’re doing.”