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Michigan, Ohio State Set to Battle for Justin Ahrens

The former Buckeye commit is down to Michigan, Ohio State, and Xavier.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In Versailles, OH, a small village tucked away in the heart of Buckeye country, an age-old war battles on. The Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes square up once more, each looking to plant another flag in the midwest. Both know the turf, and both pride themselves on snatching away talent from the other’s grasp. This time the prize is Justin Ahrens, a 3-star wing once set to don the scarlet and grey, now turned sharpshooter for hire.

Ahrens doesn’t mince words about what he brings to the table and what he can improve upon. With a small town, salt of the earth background, and years entrenched in the recruiting machine (Justin is the younger brother of Michigan State guard Kyle Ahrens), his demeanor is grounded and oozing sincere confidence.

“Right now, I compare myself to Klay Thompson kind of, but I’m trying to get my game kind of like James Harden,” Ahrens told BTPowerhouse. “You know, crafty playmaker, can shoot really well. Obviously I can shoot really well but I feel like I need to work on my playmaking, coming off ball screens and distributing to others.”

Already with an elite shot, and the mentality to be a better creator for teammates, there is one area of the game that Ahrens is unequivocally grinding to refine –defense.

“I really want to be that one guy on the team when I get to college that says, ‘Hey I’m going to guard this guy and shut him down. I’m going to hold him to 10 points, the leading scorer, I’m going to hold him and lock him up.’”

For Ohio State, the fight to reclaim Ahrens is just another reminder of the current status of the program. A few short months ago, Ahrens and two other top prospects from the state were set to restore Buckeye excellence. But for them, and many others around the country, the rug was pulled out in the form of Thad Matta’s departure.

“I was taken by surprise big time, I wasn’t really expecting it,” Ahrens said. “I just felt it was best to decommit, just by not knowing who the next coaches were going to be coming in. I did not want to be put in a position where I go to a program where I didn’t like the coaches.”

Luckily for the Buckeyes, Ahrens has taken to the new coaching staff.

“Obviously, that’s not the case, Ohio State has some great coaches and it’s good to know that. We’ve built a great relationship, so it’s been good so far.”

After his decommitment, Coach Chris Holtmann took over and prioritized re-securing the wing, and after a final 6 turned into 3, Ohio State remains. The pitch is simple. A team in flux, the Buckeyes need talent, and the minutes will be there for the taking.

“You know obviously they need guys and they feel like I can come in and be a great player for them and come in and get good minutes,” Ahrens said. “Obviously, I have to keep working and getting better and progressing, but they feel like I can be a perfect fit for the team and come in and do big things at Ohio State.”

After Ahrens opened up his recruiting, several teams got in line to snatch up an elite shooter of his caliber. John Beilein and the Michigan Wolverines were at the front. A program that puts a premium on perimeter prowess, it doesn’t take long to piece together the fit. More than anything though, Ahrens finds himself drawn to the in-house player development and their ability to get players to the next level.

“At Michigan, the coaches are as good as they get, they know how to win,” Ahrens said. “The guards, they play a lot of guards, they’re good at developing them and getting them to the next level which is the NBA and that’s the dream for me.”

Ahrens, a top 200 recruit and 7th ranked player in Ohio, is in Ann Arbor this weekend on an official visit with Michigan. He will follow that up with a trip to Columbus from September 22-24, before wrapping up in Cincinnati at Xavier University at the end of the month. Though he has no time frame on a decision, he will pull the trigger if the moment is right.

“I’ve got my three official visits set up, and if I take a visit and I really feel like it’s the right place and where my heart feels I need to be then I’ll commit,” Ahrens said. “But I plan on waiting until after my three official visits and letting it sit in a little bit, just to let things sit in and make the right decision. If I feel like it’s the right place and I really want to take it I will.”