Photo Caption: Special seniors, top left, D.J. Cooper; bottom left, David McKinley; center Walter Offutt;, top Right, Ivo Baltic; bottom right, Reggie Keely.
Saturday's contest against the rival Miami RedHawks will mark the final home game of the regular season for the Ohio Bobcat men's basketball team. Although the rivalry is always heated, Saturday's game may be less so due to the wide disparity between the teams' records, the 'Cats having secured the two-seed in next week's Mid-American Conference Tournament, and the fact that most Ohio University students will still be on spring break.
But the relative lack of excitement surrounding this game doesn't matter. What does matter is the Senior Day celebration honoring a stellar senior class that has led the Bobcats to unprecedented success during the players time in Athens.
This group of seniors, comprised of D.J. Cooper, Reggie Keely, Ivo Baltic, Walter Offutt and David McKinley, has been a major force in putting OU in the national conscience through multiple NCAA Tournament upsets over the likes of Georgetown, Michigan and South Florida. Boasting a record three 1,000-point scorers in Cooper, Keely and Baltic, these seniors have been the foundation for consistent success, setting records for the most wins (92), postseason victories (12) and games played (139) by a class.
Being a senior myself, I have been in Athens to chronicle these players' careers throughout their four years. Despite some confounding losses, such as the 50-49 home defeat to Winthrop earlier this season, the Bobcats have been a very solid basketball team during this time period, compiling a 92-47 record. Through the losses of players such as Kenneth van Kempen and Tommy Freeman and the additions of key pieces such as Nick Kellogg and T.J. Hall, this year's senior class has provided a rock-solid foundation of a team that has set a new mark for wins in back-to-back seasons with 51 and counting.
With so much success among the members of this year's senior class, let's take a look at some of their individual accomplishments.
David McKinley – Although he has played in just 49 games and scored only 39 points during his college career, the 5-foot-10 walk-on developed into a fan favorite. During the latter stages of blowout home games for the 'Cats, the O Zone could often be heard chanting "D-Mack," begging the Ohio head coach to put McKinley in the game. During McKinley's limited minutes, O Zone members clamored for him to shoot and could almost be heard willing the ball into the basket should he fire a shot. To the crowd's delight, the point guard has made all five of his three-point attempts in his 17 minutes played this season. He serves as a co-captain along with Offutt.
Reggie Keely – Keely didn't begin this season in the starting lineup, but it wasn't long before his strong interior presence was needed. He has started the past 19 games for the 'Cats, and the team has compiled a 15-4 record in those contests. While shooting a career-best field-goal percentage, the 6-foot-9 forward has served as the Bobcats' second-leading scorer this season but leads the team in scoring during conference play. Many of D.J. Cooper's passes have found their way into Keely's hands where he proceeded to back down his defender for a close-range shot. Keely's interior game provides the perfect complement to the 'Cats' many outside shooters. The Bobcat big man will be key against the 7-footer from Akron, Zeke Marshall, should Ohio and Akron meet in the MAC Tournament. Keely has career highs of 24 points and 20 rebounds and has compiled more than 600 rebounds in his career.
Ivo Baltic – Although he is now coming off the bench for the 'Cats, Baltic leads the team in rebounding this season, contributing roughly five boards per game. Baltic has been a maddeningly inconsistent player throughout his Bobcat career, as his scoring average has decreased from 11.4 points per game during his sophomore season to 8.7 last season to just 7.4 this season. He can stretch opposing defenses with his ability to shoot away from the basket, but the 6-foot-9 forward never seemed to fully perfect his shooting touch. Baltic doesn't fit the mold of a physical low-post player, so the development of an outside game became all the more important. Despite the inconsistencies, he has the potential to be a key player in this year's postseason as indicated by his averages of 18 points and 11 rebounds during the 2010-11 MAC Tournament. He has career highs of 31 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, and he surpassed the 600-rebound plateau earlier this season.
Walter Offutt – After transferring from Ohio State, Offutt helped his new Ohio team to a stellar 2011-12 campaign. Offutt averaged 12.4 points per game that season en route to scoring a career-high 26 in the near victory over North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game. This was after contributing 21 in Ohio's win over South Florida in the previous round. Following the tournament, the 6-foot-4 guard from Indianapolis was named to the NCAA Midwest Region All-Tournament Team. During the tourney, Offutt held a 19.3-point scoring average while shooting 61.8 percent from the field, including 58.8 percent from beyond the arc. Offutt, who is the 'Cats' third-leading scorer, recorded his first career double-double this season, notching 15 points and 10 rebounds against Akron on Feb. 27. Looking ahead, Offutt will serve his role as leader, defender and scorer as Ohio hopes to once again break into the NCAA Tournament field.
D.J. Cooper – What is there not to say about Cooper? As a result of his myriad accomplishments during his illustrious Bobcat career, Cooper will undoubtedly see his number hanging in the Convocation Center rafters at some point in the future. The four-time MAC Player of the Week this season has started all 30 games and leads Ohio in points, assists and steals per game. Despite slipping a few spots recently as he has taken on more of the scoring load, Cooper has been in the top 10 nationally in assists per game all season. The six-foot playmaking guard from Chicago has career highs of 43 points, 11 rebounds, 17 assists, and eight steals. He has dished out at least 200 assists in every season, and his 912 career assists puts him in 12th place, right behind Gary Payton, on the all-time NCAA list. Meanwhile, his 321 career steals ties him with Payton and Chris Garner for 21st position on the all-time NCAA steals list. In Tuesday's win over Buffalo, Cooper became the fifth 2,000-point scorer in program history with 2,018 points. He currently sits fourth on the Ohio all-time scoring list. The 2010 MAC Freshman of the Year and 2012 MAC Tournament MVP has garnered numerous national accolades for his stellar work on the court. If he can guide his team to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, his legendary status around Athens will continue to grow.
With all of this success leaving the program at the end of the season, this will truly be the end of an outstanding era of Ohio Bobcat basketball. No matter the outcome of next week's MAC Tournament, Ohio fans can agree that the past four years have been a great time to be a Bobcat.