BOISE – In Ohio State’s temporary locker room, a small space crammed with 6-foot-something skyscrapers, it’s not the Buckeyes’ All-American forward, Keita Bates-Diop, who has the best seat.
Nor is it OSU’s All-Big Ten second-team guard, Jae’Sean Tate. Or All-Freshman Team selection Kaleb Wesson.
For that matter, none of OSU’s superstars or former blue-chip recruits managed to land the room’s prime real estate. But a former walk-on has. And lest you think Andrew Dakich – known more commonly as “the Michigan transfer” – hasn’t been embraced by his teammates and ex-rivals, not only has the diminutive backup point guard managed a spot right in front of the room’s flat-screen TV, he’s also seized control of the clicker.
Remote control in hand, eyes glued to the screen, Dakich said, “I just love watching college basketball. Joey (Lane) and I picked these spots for a reason, right in front of the TV.”
It’s one thing to wear Wolverines blue one season and Buckeyes red the next. It’s another to make the transition as fluidly as Dakich has.
The graduate transfer had zero NCAA Tournament appearances before arriving in Columbus prior to the 2017-18 basketball season, even though he’d traveled to the Big Dance three times with the Wolverines.
Once a staple of the Wolverines’ scout team, Dakich is now a key figure for the Buckeyes’ bench. He gave OSU 28 minutes off the bench Thursday against South Dakota State and while his role – and minutes – vary game to game, the graduate transfer projects to play some part in the Buckeyes’ Round of 32 matchup with Gonzaga on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena.
Whatever that is, it certainly beats what he had last season.
“I’m grateful. I’ve always wanted this kind of opportunity,” Dakich said. “I’ve been very patient. This is my fourth year in the tournament and I’ve always kind of wanted to experience this. Being on the bench is different than being on the floor, for sure.”
A big self-critic, Dakich is eager to do more with the minutes he’s allotted – “You also want to hit a shot, you can’t go 1 for 7 from the field,” he said – but simply having this platform to impact a game is not a luxury he’s not taken for granted.
“You want to do it all,” he said. “You want to make plays for your teammates.”
Dakich’s transfer took him from Michigan to Michigan’s biggest rival – something that formed an obvious storyline when it happened last summer.
But Dakich could have been a Michigan State Spartan or an Indiana Hoosier and it wouldn’t have mattered in the eyes of first-year OSU coach Chris Holtmann. Just as long as he filled a big need for the Buckeyes – capable point guard – he’d be welcomed with open arms.
“The fact that he came from the team up north didn’t really factor in a whole lot because we were really desperate for guards,” Holtmann said. “We were in situation in July when it was really slim pickings. It was a no-brainer in our minds. When we took him, I think the coaching staff felt we got better as program.”
The Buckeyes were widely thought to be a lower-tier Big Ten team this season. They finished third in the regular-season standings, were ranked as high as No. 8 in the AP poll and are still kicking in the Big Dance.
So, mission accomplished.
“(Andrew) has actually meant a lot to us,” Bates-Diop said. “He’s a backup point guard. He’s played a lot of minutes and he does a lot in those minutes. He knows his role on offense and he’s pretty good on defense, too.”
Dakich plays 19 minutes per game, averaging three points and more than two assists. As Bates-Diop said, he plays better defense than his small, wiry frame might suggest.
“He was a gift,” Holtmann said.
Dakich initially grad-transferred to Quinnipiac. He spent five weeks in Hamden, Connecticut, before things went haywire. Dakich was unable to get into the school of his desired master’s program, so he started to comb through his options again.
Ohio State appeared to be one of those when Holtmann suddenly took over for Thad Matta and cleaned house, leaving a handful of vacant roster spots. Dakich had formed a relationship with Holtmann when he nearly committed to the former Butler coach – the Bulldogs had a freshman point guard waiting in the wings, so the transfer never happened – but the alliance paid off when Holtmann arrived in Columbus.
It would have been natural to feel like an outsider. Dakich didn’t, but he admits the arrangement went through an awkward phase.
“If you think about it, I’m a 6-2 slow white kid – walk-on – who didn’t play a lick at Michigan and you’re trusting this kid to come in and possibly play,” he laughed. “What would you think?”
“I was like, ‘Is that possible? Can he do that?’ ” Bates-Diop said of Dakich’s crossing of rivalry lines. “… When we first heard about, it was like, ‘I don’t think that’s ever been done before at Ohio State for any sport.’ ”
It has, by former collegiate and NFL offensive guard Justin Boren, but to Bates-Diop’s point, it’s anything but orthodox.
“We really don’t like those guys up there,” was the quote given by two separate OSU players, Tate and guard C.J. Jackson.
But Dakich has been the glue OSU’s locker room much of the season.
“He brings a lot of advice to us other guys who have only been here one or two times,” Tate said.
“Just to pick his brain and see what the winning teams did, that’s a great contribution.”
The leadership skills, the knack for winning – those derive in part from Dakich’s rich basketball background. His father is Dan Dakich, the former Indiana Hoosier often revered for his defensive work against Michael Jordan and North Carolina in the 1984 NCAA Tournament East Region semifinal.
Dan was also a longtime assistant for Bob Knight at Indiana and works for ESPN as a college basketball commentator and studio analyst. When Gonzaga and OSU met last November in the PK80 Invitational, Andrew Dakich didn’t have his best day on defense and the brunt of the criticism came from ESPN’s color commentator.
Just call it tough love from dad.
“I know he called me out a lot because Josh Perkins hit like three 3s in a row right in my face,” Andrew said. “He was very critical of my play … as he should’ve been.”
Dan Dakich received some of his own criticism that day, from former GU walk-on Rem Bakamus, who posted this tweet before the Zags and Buckeyes tipped off: “The best part about being at the Gonzaga vs Ohio State game is that I don’t have to listen to @dandakich announcing it on tv! #blessed #zagup”
Bakamus and Dan Dakich exchanged a few more tweets – a thread Andrew was reminded of Friday afternoon, some 24 hours before the GU-OSU rematch.
“My dad is such a controversial human being, he’ll just say whatever comes to mind,” Andrew told SWX. “… I think it’s all in good fun in a sense.”
One way or another, the Dakich name figures to leave an imprint on Part Two of this WCC-Big Ten showdown.
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