Buckeyes

Joey Lane: The type of player every coach wants and successful team needs

Eric Alrbrecht, The Columbus Dispatch

Joey Lane may no longer be part of the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball program due to graduation, but he left a legacy that will last much longer than the four years he was with the scarlet and gray. From walk-on to scholarship player, Lane did exactly what was needed for his team throughout his time as a Buckeye. The ideal teammate, player, and all-around person, his legacy has little to do with the box score or the stats he totaled during his 89 minutes of playing time during a four-year career in Columbus; it will instead include everything he did off the court and on the sidelines, getting the most out of his teammates in every way possible, while doing everything he could to make sure his team was successful.

It is quite rare for a team’s most vocal leader to be one of the last players on the bench, but for the Buckeyes and Lane, that was indeed the case. He never complained about his role or pouted about his playing time or lack thereof. Instead, he made the most of his opportunity and excelled in his role. Lane was the type of player that every coach dreams of; one that does whatever is needed for his team to maximize their success.

Every successful team needs a player and leader like Lane if they truly want to get the most out of their team. Buckeye Nation should be grateful that they were able to witness it up close, all while enjoying every moment of his time as a Buckeye and appreciating Lane, who quickly became a fan favorite.

**

Lane’s lifelong dream was to attend The Ohio State University. Lane was always a huge fan of Ohio State even if he didn’t grow up in Ohio. Just a kid from Deerfield, Illinois, he grew up rooting for the Buckeyes because of his family, specifically his mom and her side.

“My mom is from Toledo, Ohio and her whole family went to Ohio State from her siblings to her aunts and uncles, and everyone in between,” Lane told WFNY. “I was born and raised to be a Buckeye so that had always been the dream.”

“I was born and raised to be a Buckeye so that had always been the dream.”

He then saw that dream become a reality. Former Ohio State recruiting coordinator Christopher Spartz spotted Lane during a summer team camp in Columbus. The opportunity presented itself for him to walk on at Ohio State. The opportunity to become a Buckeye, let alone suit up for the Buckeyes, was too good to pass up. Little did he know, it was a decision for which he would forever be grateful.

Lane began his college basketball career as a walk-on at Ohio State, but he was talented enough to excel at either Division II or III basketball– rather than take the lower position at a higher ranked school. Even though he began as a walk-on and therefore had to pay for 100 percent of his school at Ohio State, even if he received a scholarship at the D-II or III level, he still would have been responsible for at least part of his school costs, especially at the Division III level, where there is no such thing as an athletic scholarship.

“I could’ve received offers from Division II programs but didn’t pursue those options because I was being recruited by several Division III programs that were elite academic institutions and I really valued the education I would be receiving in the recruiting process,” he said. “I absolutely had my heart set on going to a school where I would receive a great education while being able to compete in the sport that I loved at a high level.”

Although he may not have known it when he made that decision, it was one that would change his life forever. For as much as Lane did for Ohio State, the Buckeyes did the same for him.

“While Joey meant so much to us, I think what made him unique is that we all knew that being a Buckeye meant so much to him,” Ohio State video coordinator Kyle Davis told WFNY. “Joey is a beacon of positivity and represents a dream to play for the Buckeyes that I think a lot of us have. Watching someone live out their dream and play with that much passion has been a special thing to witness and cheer for.”

**

Lane was put on scholarship prior to his sophomore season. He wants people to know just how difficult it was to be a walk-on, reminding everyone that while the benefits of being on a big-time Division I basketball team (or any college team at that), the work you put in while still not getting any help in terms of tuition is quite difficult. It’s essentially a full-time job while still having to worry about school and all that is involved with that.

“To say it was hard would be an understatement. I knew it would be hard going in, but it was even harder than I thought,” Lane said. “It was hard to see my friends going out and having fun and me staying in to do homework almost every weekend, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“It was hard to see my friends going out and having fun and me staying in to do homework almost every weekend, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

With Ohio State having two scholarships available for the 2016-17 season, former head coach Thad Matta decided to give them to the two walk-ons on the team, one of which was Lane. Although it didn’t make the rounds on social media as some scholarship announcements do nowadays, it was a moment that he will never forget.

“It’s funny because in the world of social media we see so many scholarship announcements that go viral because they are so amazing, the teammates mob the guy, and the guy gets emotional,” Lane said of that special day. “But for me, Coach Matta told me after one of the hardest conditioning workouts I’ve ever been a part of, he told me and the rest of the team in the most Coach Matta way possible by saying, ‘And yeah guys we’re going to put Joey on scholarship’, and my teammates were all so unbelievably tired from the workout that all they really did was pat me on the back and yell a little. Of course, I was stunned and could barely get any words out of my mouth. It was an incredible day, but nothing like the way it’s depicted on social media, but I was totally OK with it.”

He didn’t know if he would remain on scholarship past that season,1 but Lane knew just how great of a moment that was. For Matta to do that was something he will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Davis described the decision to keep Lane on scholarship for his final three years of eligibility at Ohio State. It seemed to be a very easy decision, in fact.

“It was never a question, as long as we had a scholarship available we knew it was the right thing to do,” he said of both Holtmann’s decision to keep Lane on scholarship. “Joey earned the scholarship initially and his dedication to our team and the hidden value he brought as a connector with his personality and positive attitude made it impossible to take him off.”

Kudos to Matta for giving him that opportunity and Holtmann for continuing to honor that scholarship. Each of those decisions changed Lane’s life for the better and he wasn’t afraid to make that known either.

**

Win or lose, playing time or no playing time, points or no points, stats or no stats, Lane never let any of that affect him or what he brought to the team. While getting all of those things would have been much better, he knew his role and made sure to do everything he could to exceed in that role. It’s how he was taught: To make the most out of every opportunity.

“I was never raised to be selfish,” Lane said. “My parents are two of the most selfless people on this planet so thinking about myself and pouting about my situation was never an option. I mean, this is what I signed up for. If I thought I was going to start and play a ton I would’ve gone somewhere else. But I wanted to have an impact on the team and on the program and I knew that that was the way to do it.

“Additionally, Holt always talked about being a star in your role and I knew my role was different than someone like Keita’s and I didn’t care I was going to be the best damn leader and the most positive guy no matter how much I was playing.”

“I was never raised to be selfish. My parents are two of the most selfless people on this planet so thinking about myself and pouting about my situation was never an option.”

That’s what made him so great. The coaches and his teammates noticed that which was part of the reason he was voted to be a team captain by his peers this past season as one of the leaders of the Buckeyes as a senior. It was something that made Lane quite happy even if he didn’t want to get noticed in that way. The lone four-year player on the roster, he made the most of his opportunity.

**

While Lane’s role had nothing to do with his individual on-court success, we all know how much it meant to both him and the team when he not only received playing time but made a basket. The fans tried to help Lane get some playing time during a blowout the best they could, with “Put Joey In” chants. Some members of the student section, The Buckeye Nuthouse, even went as far as painting it on their chests.

“It was always so ridiculous to me. But I really do have the fans to thank because they probably got me into a couple more games than I would not have otherwise,” Lane said. “That is one of the things I will miss the most because I’m the guy that works just as hard if not harder than the rest of the guys yet doesn’t get to play. So hearing the crowd chant my name and know they want me to come in and launch one is a great feeling.”

**

Although Holtmann never openly admitted it, Davis believes the fans’ chants sort of helped Lane’s case to get in the game. Fans, specifically student sections, provide quite a home-court advantage in college athletics, specifically in football and basketball. For Lane, it provided not only that, but the home-court advantage also provided him with more playing time as well. It was well-deserved.

“Holtmann never mentioned it, and even though he will never admit to it, I think we all know that once that chant started it definitely influenced him to put Joey in the game,” he said.

When he did get in the game, Lane loved to shoot threes. In fact, he made more threes (eight) during his four years at Ohio State than he attempted twos (seven). There’s a reason for that.

“Well, the simple answer is that three is more than two so that’s why I shoot threes,”2 Lane said. “But the honest answer is that really is my game. I am a shooter first and foremost. That’s what I was known for in high school and that’s what I do really well when I get live reps in practice. I was always the best three-point shooter on the scout team and it what I work on most when I am in the gym working on my game. I would take myself to win a three-point contest against anyone in the country and I really mean that.”

If only he got the opportunity to prove that.

**

Lane’s first two years with the Buckeyes were quite rocky. The team under-performed, which was the main reason that led to Matta’s departure. Then, in his final two years, Ohio State outperformed expectations during both the 2017-18 season and 2018-19 seasons. During Holtmann’s first season, the scarlet and gray were projected by many to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They not only finished second in the conference in the regular season, but they won their first game of the NCAA Tournament as well.

“He is an everyday guy, win or lose…His positivity is infectious, and whether it was encouraging guys in practice or cheering guys on from the bench, Joey has a unique gift which unquestionably led our team.”

Then, even after losing a senior class that consisted of Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and Andrew Dakich, the Buckeyes, still not only punched a ticket into the NCAA Tournament but upset sixth-seeded Iowa State in the first game as well. Part of that was due to an outstanding senior class, one that included Lane, who took it upon themselves to capitalize on great coaching and believing in each other. Lane played a big part in that.

“Joey’s leadership and the example he set was incredibly valuable to us this season. He is an everyday guy, win or lose, his mindset is the same and his attitude and dedication never wavered,” Davis said. “That’s the kind of maturity and mentality you want you to see in your team to persevere through some bumps in the road like we experienced this season. His positivity is infectious, and whether it was encouraging guys in practice or cheering guys on from the bench, Joey has a unique gift which unquestionably led our team.”

With all that happened during his four years in Columbus, Lane admitted that it was quite difficult to pick just one moment that was his favorite.

“This is such a tough question because I have so many great options,” Lane admitted. “The moments that come to my mind are Selection Sunday both my junior and senior years, winning at Purdue during the 2017-18 season, beating Michigan State, and having the fans storm the court last year, starting on Senior Night and Senior night in general, beating Indiana in the Big Ten tournament which seemingly put us in the NCAA tournament, and upsetting Iowa State in the first round this year.

“It really is so hard to choose between all of those but I would have to say upsetting Iowa State this year because no one expected us to even be in the tourney let alone win that game.”

Davis, like Lane, also couldn’t just pick one singular moment during Lane’s four years as a Buckeye that stuck out to him. Instead, he chose a number of his favorites.

“I don’t know that if I can name just one moment, but getting to the tournament these past two years was a feeling of collective achievement that was absolutely euphoric. I knew how bad Joey wanted to play in the NCAA tournament and prove we could bounce back after a couple of tough years,” Davis said. “I’ve been a part of some really good teams, but these past two years were the closest teams I have been around and for me to get to witness Joey be a part of those teams and see the important role he played and how much he cared was special.”

**

So yeah, about that Senior Night this past March. What a day it was. I was lucky enough to be in attendance. While making the trek down I-71 south to Columbus, I began thinking how cool of a moment it would be if Holtmann gave Lane the first start of his college career in his final home game as a Buckeye in the Schottenstein Center.

He did just that. In a game against Wisconsin and an opportunity to give the Buckeyes a potential upset win over a ranked opponent, essentially clinching a spot in March Madness, Holtmann decided to start the vocal leader and player that had meant so much to Ohio State the last four years.

It was a moment that Lane will never forget.

“Oh man, well first off, even with the loss, that night was so special. I was so emotional throughout the week and especially that day because of all the love and support everyone was giving me. It was weird to reflect on four years, but it was a pretty surreal experience,” Lane said. “When Holt told me I was starting, it just showed that all the hard work and dedication I put towards the program was being both recognized and rewarded. When the game finally came, I was excited to play some meaningful minutes because I really am more than just a dude at the end of the bench; I’m a pretty good basketball player. But overall, the day was so special because it truly was the realization that I was able to live my dream. Additionally, it was amazing to have so many friends and family members at the game to support me.”

Unfortunately, Lane missed his first and only three-pointer that game on a play that Holtmann and the coaching staff drew up specifically for him on the first possession of the game.3 He didn’t let that affect him though.

Then, following the game, each senior had an opportunity to speak to the Ohio State fans that stuck around. That’s when you could really see how much Ohio State and the basketball team have meant to Lane. It’s when his emotions really started to spill over, and let’s be honest, who can blame him?

**

Davis was lucky enough to witness Lane’s transformation throughout his four years in Columbus. From walk-on to scholarship player, to team leader and captain, Lane made the most of his opportunity and made sure to prove that he belonged every chance he got. From practice to being a vocal leader on the bench, to everything he did behind the scenes that will likely never truly get noticed publicly, Lane meant so much to the Buckeyes during his four years at Ohio State.

“Joey’s path at probably one of the most unique ones that I have seen in my nine years at Ohio State. Just like any freshmen walk-on at a high major program, he went through a tough adjustment period to acclimate to speed and physicality of practice and workouts while learning to compete at this level,” Davis said. “It’s a lot to handle both mentally and physically, and some guys break down and lose their spirit. What a lot of people probably don’t realize about Joey is that beyond his big personality and playful sense of humor, he put in a lot of work behind the scenes to be successful within his role.

“He worked to change his body physically, fought through injuries, battled the heartbreak of a coaching change, and then turned around and helped unite the locker room to embrace a new staff and instill a new culture,” he said. “And somehow through it all, he never faltered from bringing a positive attitude every day which translated to him becoming a ‘connector’ and a leader on and off the floor; you never doubted that he was 100 percent committed to our program and understood what it meant to be a Buckeye. Now that his journey with us is complete I can look back and say that Joey has a made a bigger impact on our program than I ever thought possible, and his presence in our program is going to be hard to replace.”

**

There’s a reason his on-court accomplishments and stats will be the shortest section here. It’s simply because his legacy has nothing to do with the box score or stat sheet. With that said, Lane totaled 33 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals in 89 minutes throughout his college career. He scored his first point as a freshman when he knocked down one free throw against Air Force on December 8, 2015.

“Yeah, it was awesome,” he said. “I just remember missing my first like five or so shots that season and just really wanted to get some kind of bucket because I was getting scared that it might not happen. But yeah it was awesome and I still have the video that Mickey Mitchell recorded of it from behind our bench.”

**

We already know how great of a guy Lane is and how every coach dreams of having a player like him, but somehow, he made that even more evident prior to his basketball career ending. Before his Senior Night, he decided to thank every former coach he’s ever had. From second grade until his senior season in college, Lane made sure to individually acknowledge every coach that has many so much to him. He thought he had cried enough during Senior Night, but the waterworks started again once he started getting text messages from his former coaches.

“It was mostly texts, and it was a lot of texts,” he told The Columbus Dispatch’s Adam Jardy. “I deserved it, but I got bombarded right after because I sent eight or nine and had paragraphs to read of them saying some nice things. I thought I was done crying, but those were the last tears until the season probably starts again.”

He admitted that Verne Reich, who coached him from second through sixth grade for Highwood Small Fry,4 was the first one to teach him how important the fundamentals of basketball are.

“But I also think that I make fun of myself which makes people realize that I am just like them and I feel like I am the guy on the team that people can see themselves as.”

“We were such a close team, but we would run if you didn’t point at the guy after he made a good pass to you or if you didn’t say ‘nice pass’ when someone gave you an assist for a layup,” Lane said. “We would run for that stuff. Stuff like that, you think it doesn’t mean a lot but then you reflect on that nine years later or whatever it’s been and you’re like, wow, that stuff matters. Even now, coach Holt preaches the same thing: nice pass, nice shot, it’s for every level. Learning that was such a benefit to me.”

While all of his other coaches meant so much to him, he made sure to give an extra thanks to Matta, Holtmann, and each of their respective coaching staffs. They did so much for him at Ohio State and he thought the least he could do was to thank them for all they did.

“[Matta] was just saying about how special of a guy I was and how obviously anything he ever could do for me, he would,” Lane said. “He’s the man. I miss being around him because he was like no coach I’ve ever had before, but I’m excited to see, if he decides to coach again, how successful he makes that program.

“Obviously I give so much praise to this (current) staff for helping me because they’ve been instrumental in so, so much,” he said, “but the other staff, once I got time to reflect and thank them I realized, wow. Not only did coach Matta and coach Spartz and all these guys give me the opportunity to live my dream, but they also shaped me into the guy that I was in order to help this staff as a junior when they came in. I can’t thank them enough.

“You see all the success of those guys, guys like (Jeff) Boals and (Dave) Dickerson who are now head coaches, they’re outstanding coaches but they’re also awesome, awesome dudes who really impacted my life in a positive way on and off the court.”

He really was a player that every coach loves and every coach needs.

**

His energy, positivity, and just outright excitement on the bench made him noticeable and made him so easy to root for. Along with that, Lane being a personable guy allowed Ohio State fans to easily see him as just a regular person, rather than a player on their favorite team. That, in combination with his presence on social media, was the reason he became such a well-known Buckeye.

“I think that I am a fairly personable guy and I really value relationships. I really wanted to make it a point to interact with Buckeye Nation as much as possible because I was that kid tweeting at players and asking for autographs when I was younger,” he said. “So I think that the fact that I interact with everyone off the court and on social media is definitely part of it. But I also think that I make fun of myself which makes people realize that I am just like them and I feel like I am the guy on the team that people can see themselves as.”

While the type of player and his social media presence made him easily relatable to the average fan, Towel Gang seemed to really put him on the map during his senior year. What is Towel Gang, you ask? There’s a reason he also wore a towel around his neck or on top of his head during games. It was something that became quite well known across college basketball.

(Nati Harnik / AP)

“Well, it started as a way for my friends and family to be able to pick me out on TV. But it slowly turned into a phenomenon,” Lane said. “My buddy at Maryland who plays on their team used the hashtag once on Instagram and I texted him and was like, ‘Bro, I love that!’ and from then on we both used it but I kinda turned it into my brand he was okay with that.

“He literally created the name, but I made it what it is today and for that, we consider each other ‘cofounders’ of the Towel Gang. Now there are kids in high school who send me pictures of them wearing towels on the bench and there even is another college in Ohio that has about five dudes I believe that call themselves the Towel Gang. Never in a million years did I think this would take off the way it has. I should probably make some t-shirts because people are constantly asking for them.”

**

Looking back at his career as a Buckeye, it was four years that Lane will never, ever forget. It was everything he ever dreamed of and more. The fact that he was able to do it while on scholarship during his final three years made it that much better.

“It was a dream come true. Every year I was living a new portion of my dream. From just putting on a Buckeye uniform, to being put on scholarship, to being ranked in the top 10, to upset a team in the NCAA tournament, it has all been, undoubtedly, a dream,” he said.

“It was a dream come true. Every year I was living a new portion of my dream.”

There has to be something that he wishes he could change or regrets during his time at Ohio State, right? Every person has regrets or wants to go back and change something, right? For Lane, he has neither when he looks back at his four years donning the scarlet and gray.

“Absolutely not. I gave my heart and soul to this program for four years and have no regrets with how hard I worked,” Lane said. “Of course I would say I would’ve liked to win a Big Ten Championship, or go to the Final Four, or even have two seasons that would be considered ‘successful’ for my first two years but those are completely out of my control. In terms of the things I could control, I gave it my all and have zero regrets about that.”

With Lane’s college career and time as a Buckeye, at least as a player, coming to an end, he made sure to reflect on the last four years. So many people meant so much to him and allowed him to turn into the player he was. He already thanked his coaches, but he made sure to not leave Buckeye Nation out either. With that, he has a simple message for Ohio State fans:

“When you see me around, come say hi because I love you guys,” he said. “Keep following me on Twitter because that’s where you’ll always be able to find me. But don’t worry; you can’t get rid of me because I’ll be going to Ohio State basketball, and even football, games the rest of my life. Thank you for loving me and allowing me to be who I am. Without you guys, I am just another dude at the end of the bench!”

Cori Wade, The Lantern

“I gave my heart and soul to this program for four years and have no regrets with how hard I worked.”

**

Set to graduate from The Ohio State University in May, Lane already has a marketing internship lined up with Nike in Chicago this summer. It will allow him to somewhat stay in sports while also trying to find some footing on the workplace.

“I’m super excited about that opportunity and hope it can turn into something long-term down the line,” Lane said. “I’m going to put all my effort into that and see what happens. This is definitely something that I would consider a dream of mine as well.”

While it might seem OK to stay away from basketball, for now, he knows that the itch to get back to the game may become just too overwhelming down the line, which may lead to him becoming a graduate assistant for a college basketball program. So many coaches have played a prominent role in his life and playing career and he knows that he might get the opportunity to do the same for basketball players down the road.

“I have a buddy who played on Gonzaga and he took a year off and was working a regular job and said he missed it so much that he went and now he’s a (graduate assistant) at Baylor,” Lane said. “He always tells me, ‘I know you. You’re going to say you don’t want to coach and then two years from now you’ll miss basketball.’

“I just love basketball, and I want to be a part of it. Everything is interesting to me right now and I’m not closing any doors.”

**

Lane perfected his role. He knew that in order to maximize everything he could give to his team it would have nothing to do with what he did on the court, at least during games. Lane instead made the most of being a positive teammate, leader, and doing everything he could during practice to make his teammates better. Whether it was being on scout team or just pushing his teammates in any and all ways possible, Lane did all of that and then some.

“He is a true ambassador of our culture, and everyone needs a guy like that.”

You can have a bunch of individuals on a team, but if they don’t gel together, gain chemistry, or do what’s best for one another, the individuals will never be able to maximize their skills as an entire team. If each individual perfects their role, it will lead to bigger and better things, all while maximizing the potential and success of the team. For Ohio State the past four years, Lane was the epitome of each of those attributes, all while being the glue that held the team together through the good and the bad.

“Role identification on any team is extremely important. Joey’s greatest attribute that he brought to our team is that he is a natural ‘connector’,” Davis said. “His outgoing personality, constant positivity, and witty (and sometimes corny) sense of humor helped him relate and connect with everyone around our program. Joey really started to transform into a leader and come into his own these past couple years, and there is no question that he played a huge role in our locker room being so close these past couple years. He is a true ambassador of our culture, and everyone needs a guy like that.”

Every successful team needs that type of player; a player that will do anything for his teammates and coaches. Lane personified the ideal team player, a guy that every coach would love to have. Every successful team needs a Joey Lane.

  1. Spoiler alert: He did. []
  2. I mean, he’s not wrong. []
  3. The roof probably would have blown off the arena if he made it, honestly. []
  4. What a name, huh? []