Ohio State Men’s Basketball Team Boasts a Record Number of Graduate Students

The Buckeyes may be fielding their most educated hoops team ever. Six of 15 players already have bachelor's degrees, thanks mainly to a COVID-era exemption that grants an extra year of eligibility.

Chris DeVille
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Cedric Russell (2) defends Indianapolis Greyhounds guard Josiah Tynes (2) during the second half of the NCAA exhibition basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

It remains to be seen whether Ohio State’s men’s basketball team will school their opponents this year, but Chris Holtmann’s players are clearly well-schooled themselves. Largely thanks to a COVID-era exemption allowing an extra year of eligibility for athletes whose season was affected by the pandemic, six of 15 players on the Buckeyes’ 2021–2022 roster are graduate students. Per a team rep, that’s the most in program history.

While new NCAA rule changes allow student athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, they still have to be enrolled in classes to compete in varsity-level college basketball. And according to a 2018 NCAA report, men’s basketball players are increasingly finishing their undergraduate studies, with graduation rates rising to an all-time high of 82 percent. (Citing competing federal data, skeptics such Poynter Institute’s Politifact suggest the real figure is less than 50 percent.)

On the other hand, following in the footsteps of football quarterback Russell Wilson—who famously wrapped up his degree at NC State, then used the “graduate transfer exemption” to immediately suit up for Wisconsin as a master’s candidate in 2011—many programs are seeing an influx of graduates keeping their pro hopes alive by transferring in from other schools. Five of the six grads on the Buckeyes roster joined the program this way.

Here’s a look at the Buckeyes’ six graduate students, many of whom are pursuing advanced degrees in, perhaps unsurprisingly, sport management.

Joey Brunk

Joey Brunk

The center began his career in 2016 at Butler but missed most of his first season caring for his father as he died from brain cancer. As a result, the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility. After two more seasons at Butler, he graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education. He transferred to Indiana for 2019–2020, then missed 2020–2021 due to back surgery. After earning a master’s in recreation administration, he’s now at Ohio State, pursuing a second graduate degree in criminal justice administration.

Cedric Russell

Cedric Russell

Russell, a guard, passed up scholarship offers from Baylor, LSU, Houston, Texas Tech and VCU to stay close to his newborn son. After playing four seasons with Louisiana, he graduated with a degree in sport management this year. While balling for the Buckeyes in 2021–2022 he’ll be working toward a master’s in sport industry/sport management.

Jimmy Sotos

Jimmy Sotos

After three seasons playing guard at Bucknell, Sotos completed an economics degree and switched to Ohio State for the 2020–2021 season. As he bounces back from February’s season-ending shoulder surgery, he’s seeking a master’s in sport management.

Seth Towns

Seth Towns

Towns, a forward, played two seasons at Harvard then missed two more due to injury. Having completed his undergrad studies in sociology, he switched to Ohio State last season and is pursuing a master’s in sport management. Following back surgery in September, Towns is expected to be ready to play before year’s end.

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Jamari Wheeler

Jamari Wheeler

Wheeler never missed a game in four seasons for Penn State while securing a bachelor’s in rehabilitation and human services. At Ohio State, the guard is pursuing a master’s in sports coaching.

Kyle Young

Kyle Young

Young is the only Buckeye grad student who also went to Ohio State for undergrad. Now that he’s earned a bachelor’s degree in sport industry, the forward is studying sport management in grad school.

This story is from the November 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.