Hero's welcome

Although fired by Ohio State just two years ago, Thad Matta is likely to get the biggest ovation of any Athletic Hall of Fame inductee

The lines may be atypically short at Ohio Stadium's concession stands at halftime of Ohio State's game against Cincinnati on Saturday.

Don't be surprised if Buckeye fans forgo their favorite beverage or snack for the chance to pay homage to a basketball guy on a football afternoon.

The latest inductees into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame will take a bow at midfield, and it will be an upset if Thad Matta's ovation doesn't eclipse those of the other nine honorees.

Rarely has a fired coach, and Matta got the heave-ho in June of 2017 after a second straight season without an NCAA Tournament berth, been so beloved.

Every time Matta comes back to Columbus -- whether for a ceremony at Value City Arena last season, or an unannounced visit to The Basketball Tournament in the summer of 2018, OSU fans lavish their love on him.

They probably feel a little guilty over the way Matta's era ended after coaching the Buckeyes to 337 wins in 13 seasons, including five Big Ten regular season championships, four conference tournament titles, two Final Fours and a 2007 NCAA runner-up finish.

But that's only part of why Matta will be so warmly welcomed.

OSU fans love winning, of course, but they also loved Matta for how he won and how he hungered to win.

There was nary a hint of an NCAA scandal during his tenure, at a time where college basketball sank into a cesspool of shoe-company king-makers and shadowy AAU influencers.

"It wore me down at times," Matta told WTVN Radio on Thursday. "You knew what was going on. You knew how it was happening.

"Obviously, there was a code (of silence). You see it now. Nobody talks."

Matta, of course, could blow a loud whistle if he chose to, but he has not so far and isn't likely to do so.

Maybe he's careful because he wants to get back into coaching, having interviewed and flirted with both Butler, Alabama and Georgia since leaving OSU.

He would be fantastic as a television analyst, but that's probably a little too look-at-me for a low-key guy like Matta.

Besides, he still struggles with debilitating side effects from a back surgery gone wrong at OSU.

That, more than anything, took away his ability to coach and recruit at the relentless pace he maintained after coming to Columbus from Xavier, where he took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in his second season.

Year 1 at OSU, Matta's middling bunch of holdovers from the Jim O'Brien era handed Illinois its first loss after a 31-0 start.

Year 2, Matta won the Big Ten.

Year 3, he took OSU to the NCAA title game with freshmen Michael Conley and Greg Oden leading the way.

Matta got Conley and Oden out of Indianapolis at a time when lndiana's program was down and before such elite talent was brokered to whoever had the right shoe deal with their AAU team or whatever school greased the right palms.

The FBI was supposedly going to clean up those kinds of shenanigans, but no elite head coach's head has rolled since the scandal broke.

One of the coaches immersed at the ugliest levels of the FBI scandal is Arizona's Sean Miller, who was Matta's top assistant and eventual successor at Xavier.

"Four of five year ago, (OSU Athletic Director) Gene (Smith) and I were talking," Matta said. "I said, 'Gene what needs to happen is, you and (the OSU President) and 10 other (university) presidents need to get together and go to the NCAA. Tell them to go to the shoe companies and say, "It's either us or AAU (Basketball). You choose.' That'll clean it up."

Chris Holtmann has taken Ohio State to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances since's Matta's departure and has one of the nation's top-recruiting classes about to debut in Year 3, just like the timeline Matta followed with the Oden-Conley crew in 2007.

"I look at what Chris is doing now, he's doing it the right way," Matta said. "From that (integrity) perspective, he's doing it the right way, as well.

"It can be done. Look at Virginia winning it this year. Gosh, I've never rooted for a team harder to win it, because I know Tony (Bennett) does it the right way."

Besides Matta, the headline inductees into the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame include former football players Mike Nugent and A.J. Hawk, ex-women's basketball coach Jim Foster and long-time NHL player R.J. Umberger.

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