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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Between not initially academically qualifying as a freshman to public complaints about playing time, it wouldn't be surprising if Thad Matta blamed LaQuinton Ross for the loss of a few hairs on top of his head.
But if the Ohio State coach ever wonders why he's put up with so much from the now sophomore forward, he needn't look any further than his team's starting lineup and its leading scorer.
The immaturity and questionable shot selection that Ross has displayed throughout his short time at OSU has been nothing but reminiscent of what Buckeyes' forward Deshaun Thomas showed the world in his freshman season two years ago. And so has his potential.
It's hard to deny the similarities between Ross' and Thomas' respective games; both are tall shooters who have a knack for filling up the basket, and doing so in relatively short spans of time in a variety of ways. But both players have also suffered from lapses in judgement, and temporary disregard for little things like passing and defense.
In Thomas' case, he stringed together two seasons of flashes and became a preseason All-American before the start of his junior season, where he is now averaging 21 points per game. Having spent a year and half less in Columbus than Thomas has, Ross hasn't yet found the same success at the college level, but in the Buckeyes' 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky, he certainly showed flashes.
Playing in 29 minutes against the Norse, the Mississippi native scored 22 points and recorded eight rebounds against NKU, both of which were career highs. Ross found special satisfaction in the career performance, after he found himself on the OSU bench for the first 18 minutes of the second half in the Buckeyes' loss to Duke on Wednesday.
"It was definitely great," Ross said. "My coaches really pushed me in practice, telling me to shoot the ball and have my feet ready. Tonight, I just got that opportunity so I had to take advantage of it."
Matta believes that the difference for 2011's No. 43 overall recruit on Saturday was his preparation in practice, which helped lead to an increased trust in him from the OSU coaching staff.
"LaQuinton, first of all, had a great practice yesterday," Matta said. "The one thing with LaQuinton is you constantly have to point out the little things and how important they are in terms of the overall picture."
The ninth-year OSU coach admitted that he's not much different than Thomas in that regard, who saw playing time dwindle as a freshman due to his poor slot selection and an apparent disdain for defense. Given that he has a player on his roster who's been in Ross' shoes, Matta encouraged the Buckeyes' leading scorer to become a mentor of sorts for the similarly skilled sophomore.
"I told Deshaun yesterday to make sure he got with (Ross) and told him like, 'Hey, you're kind of in the same position I was in,'" Matta said. "In essence, 'Q's a freshman, so I think that's something that I think just the overall growth of everything that encompasses becoming a player."
With declining point totals in the Buckeyes' past three contests, Thomas was glad to help his younger teammate, whose emergence will only lessen the load that gets placed on the shoulders of the 2012 second-team All-Big Ten selection.
"It's going to help a lot. Teams are going to play me real tight, play me aggressive," Thomas said. "It's important for a guy like 'Q' to come in and step up and it's a big key to this team."
But while Ross' breakout performance on Saturday certainly showed extended flashes of the talent that got message board posters and Twitter timelines so excited about the highly touted sophomore before the season started, Matta admitted that he still has someway to go before he fully reaches his potential. And while that could be viewed as a negative in the short-term, itt leaves perhaps a limitless ceiling for Ross beyond the present.
"Q and I have, I think, a unique relationship," Matta explained. "I said to him the other day, I said, 'You're here, I'm here, and I keep coming this way, but you're not coming this way. And he tried to guess who said it. And I said, 'You're missing the point of what I'm telling you.'
"We see signs. Like I said, he had a tremendous practice yesterday, and I felt like going into today's game that he was going to play really, really well. And he did."
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