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Top-50 recruit E.J. Liddell commits to the basketball Buckeyes

Chicago Tribune

Drake started from the bottom and now he’s here but for Ohio State Buckeyes head basketball coach Chris Holtmann, he seemingly started from the top…and he’s still there.

To complete an excellent 2019 recruiting class, Belleville, Illinois four-star power forward E.J. Liddell committed to the Buckeyes Monday night, seemingly capping off what has been an excellent summer for Holtmann and company. He chose Ohio State over Missouri and Illinois, who were the other programs he included in his top three.

“They had a great tradition for a long time,” Liddell told Belleville News-Democrat’s Alex Schiffer. “When I was a kid, I always loved Ohio State.

“I imagined myself playing in an Ohio State jersey as a football player, but when I noticed I was a basketball player I still had the love for them also.”

Prior to July, many projected him to commit to Missouri. That all changed when DJ Carton committed to the Buckeyes. During Liddell’s official visit to Ohio State just over a month ago, the scarlet and gray did everything they could to impress him, including bringing Carton back to campus. Keita Bates-Diop, who is the last Illinois native to commit to Ohio State prior to Liddell, was also in attendance.

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound power forward is the 10th-best power forward and 48th-best player in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings. Liddell was named Illinois Mr. Basketball and earned Gatorade player of the year honors after averaging 20.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game as a junior last season. He also holds the Belleville West High School records for points in a season (708) and career (1,759). Although he is quite physical and uses his size in the post, Liddell can also step out and knock down shots from the perimeter as well. He’s quite good defensively as well. He’s tough enough to get his shots in the post and quick and versatile enough to take advantage of mismatches outside the paint and around the perimeter as well. The big man seems to be a dominant force on defense as well.

“He just has a knack for blocking shots,”Belleville West coach Joe Muniz told the Chicago Tribune in March. “We teach kids not to go for the block because that will get you in foul trouble. But EJ’s timing and his long arms … I’ve never seen a high school kid do it like he can.”

Now, with Liddell in the fold, the Buckeyes have three top-50 verbals in the 2019 class: Point guard DJ Carton (No. 24), power forward Alonzo Gaffney (No. 39), and Liddell (No. 48). It’s the first time since 2010 that the basketball Buckeyes have achieved that feat.1 Ohio State is currently the only program in the country with at least three top-50 commits.

With such an impressive class, the Buckeyes will seemingly have the top class in the Big Ten in 2019. Following Liddell’s commitment, they also went from 13th-best in the country all the way to fourth best, trailing only USC, Louisville, and Kentucky, according to 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings. What’s even better news is that the Buckeyes’ have the second-best average ranking per commit, trailing only the Wildcats. The reason they are behind the Trojans and Cardinals is due to each of those programs having five commits each.

It will be the second-straight offseason that the Buckeyes have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten. With help from Thad Matta, Holtmann was able to finish off an excellent class last summer, even though he had very limited time in Columbus.

While speaking with media members last Wednesday, Holtmann used a term called the “bread basket” to explain he and his staff’s recruiting strategy.

“That’s really what is extremely important for us to recruit, and to recruit well,” he said, according to Eleven Warriors’ Colin Hass-Hill. “It is this breadbasket of five to seven hours where we can recruit in the midwest. Certainly, we want to recruit Ohio well. We really need to recruit Ohio, those two things together effectively. And then, occasionally, you’ll go outside of those areas to recruit.”

It’s key to lockup some of the best players in the country if you want an elite program, especially if those players reside near you. Liddell just so happens to be a six-hour and 50-minute drive from Columbus, which would make him part of the bread basket. So are the other two commits in the 2019 class, with Gaffney (Garfield Heights, Ohio) and Carton (Bettendorf, Iowa).

After surprising the college basketball world last season, the Buckeyes may regress a little this season simply due to an entire recruiting class, which would now be seniors at Ohio State, transferring from the program even before their second season in Columbus. With that said, the future is very, very bright for the basketball Buckeyes. Holtmann seems to be brewing something special at Ohio State and it seems as though no one can stop him. Now, they just have to prove it on the court.

It may not be college basketball season quite yet, but Holtmann and co. continue to win.

Here’s one of Liddell’s highlight videos:

  1. The 2010 class’ top-50 prospects were Jared Sullinger (No. 4), Deshaun Thomas (No. 19), and Jordan Sibert (No. 41). []