By Ari Wasserman
The airplanes wheels were up from Boston and the Ohio State basketball team was on its way back to Columbus. Central Ohio, this time, is only a pit stop for a few days before the Buckeyes head south to New Orleans for the Final Four.
Thad Matta had just allowed it to sink in his program will advance to the biggest stage in college basketball for the second time in eight years, now only two wins away from winning a national championship.
This has to be the peak of basketball, Matta thought to himself. Then he looked a few seats over and saw assistant Chris Jent, a former NBA interim head coach in Orlando and an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went to the NBA Finals.
I asked him this compares to going to the NBA Finals as a coach, Matta said. He told me, well, well see how I feel when I get there, but this is the greatest feeling because it is for Ohio State.
It has been 20 years since Chris Jent had a chance to make a 12-foot baseline jumper to send Ohio State to the Final Four, that time as a player. It was 1992 when Jent misfired on the biggest shot of his playing career, leaving the Buckeyes with a 75-71 overtime loss to Michigans Fab Five in the Southeast Region final in Lexington, Ky.
Had Jent made the shot, the Buckeyes would have won in overtime. Memories of the tears Jent shed in the postgame locker room are still fresh, and the now 42-year-old remembers the moments leading up to the shot as vividly as what he just ate for breakfast.
I have tried to put the past aside, Jent told BSB. I just told myself the only time Im going back to a Final Four is if I am a part of Ohio State and a Buckeye again. Obviously, we have great love and passion for Ohio State, and thats what brought me back.
When Matta brought Jent out of the NBA to be an assistant with the Buckeyes, some viewed it as a demotion for the coach. He was LeBron James personal shooting coach with the Cavaliers and reached the pinnacle of coaching at one point when he served as the head coach for an NBA team.
Jent saw it differently. It was an opportunity to be something hes always been a Buckeye. Helping Ohio State achieve one of the most fleeting goals in college basketball in his first year as an assistant isnt redemption, but it is a dream for the lifelong Buckeye.
I was hoping wed get to this point and I knew we had the talent to do it, but I never dreamed this would happen, especially this quickly, Jent said. It is really hard to explain how I feel right now because you reflect a lot on those negative emotions you had years and years and years ago.
Like I said before I would never go back to the Final Four unless I was with this team. Now, to be here, is phenomenal.
One of the most prolific scorers on the veteran Ohio State team that lost to the youthful Wolverines, Jent remembers he made only two of his 12 shot attempts. The last shot he took came off his hand poorly and clanked off the iron.
Jent never watched a replay of that shot in two decades, but he knows what was at stake. It wasnt just a trip to the Final Four, but it was against Michigan. The rivalry pales in comparison to the one found on the gridiron, but if there was one game to compare this one was it.
How Ohio State fares for the rest of the season still remains a mystery. With two more wins, Jent may be able to finally put the shot that has haunted him his entire life behind him.
Chris is the best, Matta said. I know the job that hes done has helped this basketball team. Ill be honest I am excited for Chris and his family to be a part of this.