Matt Stanley took his talents to Columbus…to be on the practice team.
The Schott is empty except for members of the women’s basketball team and its coaches. Every sound echoes for what feels like forever, from the bounce of the basketball to each syllable of Kevin McGuff talking. This isn’t a game, this is practice. We’re talking about practice. But McGuff and his staff have to take it seriously, because the team has a game tomorrow night.
When McGuff speaks, everyone listens. The players listen. The practice team listens. The assistants listen. Because this season is what they’ve worked so hard for. This practice is what gets them ready to take on their opponents tomorrow. These instructions are their guide for knowing how to beat the best players in the NCAA.
It makes sense for the players. For many of them, basketball is their whole life. They’ve dreamt of playing basketball since they were kids. But for members of the practice squad—like Matt Stanley—this is voluntary. The three-hour practices nearly everyday, the dedication to understanding the Buckeyes’ opposition, the endless repeat of the same play so that the players can get familiar with it—it’s all voluntary. But Stanley still shows up at 9 a.m., every day he’s able.
“From a young age [basketball] was always something that piqued my interest,” Stanley recalled. “I remember many nights in the backyard, I had just enough of a patio that was basically the width of a lane. I remember, I would look up how far the NBA three-point line was versus the college one and I marked them out.”
At practice, assistant coach Carrie Banks gives out player comparisons that the Practice Squad is supposed to embody. She’ll tell her players that a player on the opposing team is a very athletic Rondo. Then the Practice Team players have to do their best to become that player.
“In practice, the coaches try to implement ‘Redick,’ ‘LeBron,’ and ‘Rondo,’”—for J.J. Redick, LeBron James, and Rajon Rondo—“It’s a great job by the coaches to determine scouting and make it applicable to something that we [the team] have seen,” Stanley said.
And the coaches take these seriously. If Banks tells you you’re a Rondo, you don’t take as many threes. If she says you’re a Redick, you’re firing from beyond the arc every chance you get. This exercise is all about turning the Practice Team into the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent—and making sure the women on the team are familiar with what they’ll see when game night comes around.
The whole experience is about the practice team becoming the Buckeyes’ opposition.
“Say we had the worst shooter in the world on this practice team, for whatever reason. If the scouting says this team gets up a shot every ten seconds,” Stanley said. “Then it doesn’t matter whether you can shoot or not: get it up. Because that’s what’s important to this particular practice.”
Matt is mostly self-taught in basketball. Aside from the church leagues and little leagues he played in through middle school, he hasn’t been in organized basketball much. He wasn’t on the team in high school. He learned his moves watching his favorite players—Kobe Bryant above all others—then emulating them to the best of his ability.
“LeBron was big at the time, so I used to practice his game 2 ‘09 Eastern Conference Finals game-winner against Orlando in the backyard all the time,” Stanley said. Cleveland fans probably remember the shot well—with about a second left in the game, LeBron caught an inbound pass at the top of the three-point line and drained it over Hedo Turkoglu.
This shot is basically a core memory for Stanley. It’s a moment that informed so much of his own skill with basketball. He taught himself a behind-the-back crossover by watching LeBron do it early on in his career. His turnaround jumper is molded in the form of Kobe. His repertoire is made up of the most iconic moves in basketball history.
With his own dedication to learning paired with the basketball IQ he’s gained from Ohio State’s coaching staff, Stanley has never been better at basketball than he is right now. That is, until his next practice.
It started when he was scrolling through Twitter while at lunch. As a sport industry major and avid basketball fan, he knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He showed up to a meeting, and that was that. As long as he could commit his time and effort, he had a spot on the practice team for one of the premier women’s basketball programs in the U.S.
“The first morning we had practice, I was just kind of shooting around as we were waiting for practice to begin,” Stanley said. “And coach McGuff pulled us together and introduced himself… and I felt that initial interaction with coach McGuff was very welcoming. It felt like he valued what we could bring to the table for the team.”
And just like that, Stanley found his spot at Ohio State. Having not lived on campus, he said he never really felt he fit in during his first two years at the school. These practices—which help him as a basketball player—have also given him a sense of belonging at Ohio State.
1870 ALL-STAR PRACTICE TEAM
MATT STANLEY | GUARD
Height: 5’9 and a half — but claims 5’10
Signature move: Midrange turnaround fade
Favorite player right now: Kyrie Irving
Favorite player all-time: Kobe Bryant
Favorite sneaker: Kobe 10 Elite Rose Gold
All-time basketball moment: Dropping 34 at recess while playing 2-on-6 in seventh grade
Player most likely to drop buckets on him: Janai Crooms