As soon as Ohio State’s name popped up on the CBS Selection Sunday broadcast of the NCAA tournament bracket, Jordan Sibert said University of Dayton assistant coach Tom Ostrom leaned over and shared the wildest of possibilities.
“He whispered, ‘We’re gonna pop up next!’ ” Sibert said. “I was like ‘Aaaah, no, somebody else is gonna pop up. Not us.’ ”
Sibert, the 6-foot-4 junior guard who leads the Flyers in scoring, couldn’t believe the stars would align that perfectly.
Two years ago he had transferred to UD from Ohio State, where he had played two seasons and even gone to the Final Four.
When he left Columbus, he said he had often flashed on the idea of facing his old team:
“When I first transferred I always dreamed of that. I imagined what would happen if I ever did get a chance to play against them: ‘What would you do? How would you feel?’ ”
But the chance of that happening seemed almost impossible.
UD has been playing basketball since 1903 and in that time — even though the schools are 75 minutes apart — the Flyers and Buckeyes have met nine times and once since 1988. That was the 2008 NIT at the Schottenstein Center and the Bucks won, 74-63, in a game that for the most part wasn’t that close.
But Sunday night Ostrom looked clairvoyant when, sure enough, the 11th-seeded Flyers matched up against No. 6 seed OSU in a second-round game Thursday in Buffalo.
“As soon as we saw our name, everybody started hopping around,” Sibert said of the gathering at Coach Archie Miller’s Kettering home. “I tried to get up, but I got pushed back down by somebody.”
That’s about the only time Sibert has gotten shoved into the background for the Flyers this year. He’s averaging 12.5 points, is the team’s best 3-point shooter (75-171) — unless you count big man Jalen Robinson’s freakish 5-for-9 — and he’s second in steals.
He said he came to UD because he wasn’t getting to play much at OSU (8.3 minutes a game as a freshman, 11.4 as a sophomore), and after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules, he’s getting the third-most minutes on the court of any Flyer.
“I don’t know if I should say it’s a fresh start for him, but he is enjoying himself as a player now,” Miller said. “I really think he just needed a little less environment (than OSU), just a little smaller place. What we have is a little different than Ohio State. It’s less magnified, more centralized and, for him, he’s had a great start.”
Sibert shared his joy with former teammate Sam Thompson on Sunday night as soon as the matchup was announced.,
“I already texted my friend,” he said. “Sam is the only one there I stay in contact with. We’re really, really close friends. I just texted a smiley face.”
Although Sibert doesn’t have much contact with his old team, he said he was just at the Schottenstein Center on Saturday.
“My high school (Princeton), our girls team, won the state final, so I went to watch,” he said. “Walking in was weird. It was kind of awkward. It felt familiar, though. But I was like, ‘This ain’t my home anymore … I’m a Flyer.’ “
Many threads tie this game together.
Miller was a young assistant on OSU coach Thad Matta’s staff there five years ago. And Matta knows the UD program from his days as the Xavier coach. Then there’s UD assistant coach Kevin Kuwik, who was the Buckeyes’ video coordinator before joining the Flyers staff.
But no link will be highlighted more than Sibert having played for both teams.
And yet Miller said it means “absolutely zero.”
He said: “This is not Jordan versus the Buckeyes or me against the Buckeyes. We’re all part of a team and no one preaches team more than me.”
“Me and Coach Archie being from there we know a few of the tricks,” he said with a laugh. “But this is just about us doing what we do as a team, playing how we know how to play. In the grand scheme of things, the only thing that matters is that we win. If I score a lot of points or don’t score at all, I’ll be happy if we win.”
Of course, he admitted he does fantasize just a bit:
“Absolutely you want to go off on any team we play and if I got the chance here it would be one of the most amazing games ever. That’s what I’m going for. Anytime you transfer, for whatever reasons — and there are no hard feelings at all on my part with Ohio State — you always want to do your best. And if you are going against your old team you want to put your best foot forward.”
And with that, he excused himself and headed down to Cronin Athletics Center’s practice gym to start putting up some extra shots.
The stars had aligned perfectly and Thompson had texted him back:
“I’ll see you Thursday.”