By Matt McCoy
Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft play their final home game Sunday
If only Lenzelle Smith Jr. had a do over.
"Coming in here with an injury (as a freshman) I wish I would have sat out that year and had a year left still to play," Smith said as he and teammate Aaron Craft prepare for their final home game when the Basketball Buckeyes host Michigan State Sunday at 4:30. "I've been proud to put the jersey on that says Ohio State and that's what it's all about. I want to leave this place knowing that I gave my all for the school and did everything I can for Buckeye Nation."
It figures to be an emotional goodbye for the two seniors who have won two regular season Big Ten titles, two Big Ten tournament titles, and have been to the Sweet 16, Final Four and Elite Eight the last three years.
This season has been far from a perfect ending for the Buckeye back-court. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8 Big 10) heads into Sunday's match-up coming off consecutive losses and has gone 7-8 since opening the season 15-0.
"Every year that we've come to this point it's all about moving forward and it doesn't matter what's happened in the past," Craft said. "Nothing is going to take away from the opportunity to play on Senior Night and it's going to be a great moment regardless of what's happened to this point and what's going to happen afterward."
The number one priority for both Buckeyes certainly is to win their last game but both could achieve significant milestones in their final Schottenstein Center appearance.
Smith needs 16 points to become the 51st Buckeye to join the 1,000 point club. Craft hit that milestone earlier this year and is already Ohio State's all-time leader in assists and steals. He would become the career steals leader for the entire Big 10 if he can get just one theft on Sunday.
Craft's relentless style of play, extraordinary behavior off the court, and his performance in the classroom as a three-time academic all-american, has made him a fan favorite (unless he's on the road). His legacy is undeniable...just don't ask him about it.
"I don't feel comfortable putting myself in close to the same category as the guys who have come before. Even guys like Dave (Lighty) who I played with, I don't view myself at the same level or type of player as he was," Craft said. "I'm just very honored and humbled to continue on with what they've established here and to play a very small part in it."
Craft may call it a 'very small part' but coach Thad Matta says both he and Smith have been major contributors to the program. Despite what's been an up and down final season, Matta says the program is stronger now, than it was when Craft and Smith arrived.
But all good things must come to an end and the era of Smith and Craft, at least in the Schottenstein Center ends Sunday.
"I won't be able to put my Ohio State jersey on anymore and look at some of my fellow classmates and see the smiles on their faces after a victory," Smith said--again wishing he had one more year. "This has been the best part of my life--bar none."
If you're a Buckeye Basketball fan, it hasn't been too shabby either. Enjoy the final days of the both Craft and Smith. Guys who perform as well as they have both on and off the court don't come around very often.
To listen to Craft and Smith talk with reporters about their final home game, click here: