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August 29, 2007

Lighty takes on new role for Ohio State

Florida is the runaway winner as the college basketball team that lost the most from last season. All five starters including three NBA lottery picks are gone.

However, the school that lost to Florida in the 2007 national title game also has huge shoes to fill. Nobody knows that better than Ohio State sophomore guard David Lighty.

Lighty was a roommate of the Buckeyes' three first-round draft picks last year. He shared a four-bedroom apartment with No. 1 pick Greg Oden, No. 4 pick Mike Conley and No. 21 selection Daequan Cook. Lighty says the tight-knit group still talks on the phone about once a week.

"I'm really excited for those guys," Lighty told Rivals.com. "It obviously wasn't a surprise with Greg. I think I knew around (NCAA) Tournament time that Mike might leave. That's when everyone found out how crucial he was for us. Without him in the lineup things would have been a lot different. With Daequan, a lot of people didn't think he'd get drafted. But he had some good workouts. Going to the NBA was his dream, and I'm happy for him."

A member of the famed "Thad Five" recruiting class, Lighty and his former teammates received an enormous amount of attention a year ago. Coach Thad Matta led an OSU squad with less talent to a 26-6 record the previous season. With the addition of Oden and two more five-star prospects (Conley and Cook), many members of the media were picking the Buckeyes to reach the Final Four. They were ranked No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll.

This offseason, Indiana and Michigan State have emerged as the new favorites in the Big Ten. The revamped Buckeyes may even start the preseason outside of the top 25.

Lighty feels the lack of attention is a mistake, citing the addition of a five-man recruiting class that landed at No. 6 in Rivals.com's 2007 team rankings.

"We feel like we have something to prove," the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder said. "We have a little chip on our shoulder. We want to prove everybody wrong.

"We lost three players (to the NBA). The year before they lost nearly everybody and look what happened (the Buckeyes lost five of their top seven scorers from the 2005-06 team). Who is to say these freshmen can't come in and help us do the same thing?"

The incoming class is highlighted by five-star center Kosta Koufos, a European-style big man with a 7-foot, 250-pound frame and a soft shooting touch. Four-star small forward Evan Turner can play a variety of positions, and four-star shooting guard Jon Diebler possesses a savvy game.

Center Dallas Lauderdale (No. 112) and small forward Eric Wallace (No. 116) were both ranked well inside the Rivals150. Lauderdale (6-8, 230) is a defensive force in the paint, and Wallace is extremely athletic.

Each of the freshmen was on campus this summer taking classes and playing pickup games with the returning players.

"All of them are going to help us in every area," Lighty said. "We have shooters, slashers and big men."

The Buckeyes also have some experience at the point and in the paint. Three-year starter Jamar Butler was one of the Big Ten's top point guards before Conley arrived. Butler averaged 4.6 assists per game two seasons ago. Junior college transfer Othello Hunter started the first eight games at center last season while Oden was recovering from a wrist injury.

What the Buckeyes don't have is a proven scoring threat from the wing. That has led to major expectations for Lighty, one of the main candidates to fill that role. Lighty spent most of last season coming off the bench and providing a defensive spark. A superb perimeter defender, he averaged 16.3 minutes and 3.7 points a game.

"David didn't need to score last year, but once he understands that (Ohio State) needs him to score he'll adopt a different mentality," said Dave Wojciechowski, who coached Lighty for four years at Villa-Angela-St. Joseph's High School in Cleveland, Ohio. "He's the type of guy that has the ability to put the basketball in the basket. He can be a big-time offensive threat."

Lighty showed some signs of that last month at the U-19 World Championships in Serbia. Lighty led the American team in field-goal percentage, making 31-of-45 attempts (68 percent), and averaged 8.7 points in 23.5 minutes per game.

"I got to see all of these great players from around the world," Lighty said. "I saw things that I can add to my game. A lot of people don't get that experience. I think it will help me out a lot."

DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright, who was the head coach of the U.S. team, compared Lighty to San Antonio Spurs guard Bruce Bowen. Wainwright and was particularly impressed with Lighty's leadership skills.

"David was absolutely terrific," Wainwright said. "I named him our captain. He never had a bad possession and played fearlessly. I'd love to have him on my team."

If Lighty has his way, many other coaches will feel the same way by the end of next season.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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