Nine games into the season, the story so far for Ohio State is headlined by newcomers. A much-heralded freshman class is already putting its stamp on the program, logging meaningful minutes and breathing new life into Value City Arena.
Much of the talk has centered on D'Angelo Russell, and deservedly so. The 6'5" combo guard is among the leaders among freshmen in scoring across the country, leading the Buckeyes with just under 18 points a game. Russell has shown poise, a high basketball IQ, and a well-rounded game.
But it is one of his fellow rookies, Jae'Sean Tate, that is fueling Ohio State's energy. A glue guy in the mold of David Lighty, who seems to know no other way to play than full-throttle at all times, Tate's impact on the team reaches far beyond statistics.
"It starts with him," senior Sam Thompson said on Friday of Tate. "He's the guy in the middle of the circle yelling and dancing, getting us hyped."
Tate is averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a game so far this season, but his energy on the floor is palpable. At 6'4", the Pickerington native often finds himself playing as an undersized power forward, but his tenacity in the paint and on the boards makes it seem like he's a bona fide big man.
"He's got a knack for really getting guys going, as well as getting under the skin of the other team," head coach Thad Matta said on Friday, echoing Thompson. "I think he's kind of brought some guys along with him at certain times of the game, (and they) have shown a little more fire, a little more passion because of it."
Offseason shoulder surgery had Tate playing catchup throughout the summer, but he rehabbed hard to be ready for fall practice. That work has paid dividends, as he was on the floor to help key the second half rally against Louisville and has matched his career-high with 12 points in each of the last two games.
"What those guys do is bring energy, especially Jae'Sean Tate," assistant coach Jeff Boals said of the freshmen after the Louisville game.
Whether his position is on the wing or in the paint, Tate's motor is constantly on display. His teammates understand just how valuable that is.
"He's done a good job of really setting the tone for us, and we've kind of run with it," Thompson said.
As the Buckeyes eye next weekend's tilt with highly-ranked North Carolina (in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic at the United Center in Chicago) and the beginning of Big Ten play at the end of the month, Tate's hustle, energy, and intensity will be needed more than ever.