The Men Of The OSU Women’s Basketball Team

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From left: Charles Flinn, Steve Laake, Lordell Horne, Nate Rossi, Julio Gracia, and Roy Niederlander take a break during a recent practice.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
From left: Charles Flinn, Steve Laake, Lordell Horne, Nate Rossi, Julio Gracia, and Roy Niederlander take a break during a recent practice.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

On Sunday, the Ohio State University women’s basketball team plays Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Some members of the team who won’t be taking the court? Men.

Every practice, nine men put on Ohio State gym shorts and lace up their sneakers just like the women and run through drills and scrimmages. They’re official members of the women’s team: subject to drug testing and other NCAA rules. They just can’t play in games. Julio Garcia is a junior studying pre-law. He played basketball in high school in Texas and joined the women’s practice team to stay in shape and stay active in the game.

“It’s different; you’re not really used to it. You don’t know to go hard or to take it easy on them. But they definitely don’t take it easy on us, so you have to go hard against them, too,” Garcia says.

Nathan Rossi agrees. He’s a senior biology major who joined the team last season after getting an email about try-outs.

“They’re just as physical,” Rossi says.

“They’re playing at Ohio State for a reason. It’s fun to play against them because it’s a challenge every day, but it’s a challenge I like, so it’s fun.”

And it’s a trend that’s made its way into most powerhouse programs. The University of Tennessee is credited with dressing the first men’s practice players in 1974, and a recent survey by the NCAA shows up to two-thirds of women’s teams practice against men.

OSU head coach Jim Foster says it makes his team tougher.

“It allows us to practice against a physicality that other teams have. There’s some quickness there and some basketball attributes that make our defenders have to work a little bit harder,” Fosters says.

OSU junior guard Amber Stokes has started every game for the Buckeyes this season. She says the male players have made her better.

“They’re very competitive,” Stokes says. “They play as if we’re guys too, and they help us a lot. I’m glad they come in…they have classes and stuff but they still come in and they work with us. It’s really nice to have them and I really appreciate it.”

Appreciated, but it can make things a little…awkward.

During a recent practice, a male player accidentally elbowed a female player. He obviously felt bad and apologized, but she shrugged it off without a second thought.

Nathan Rossi recounts a similar story from last year.

“I caught a ball on the wing and there was nobody around me,” remembers Rossi.

“So I went to the hoop and one of the smallest girls on the team, Maleeka Kynard, jumped right in the way at the last second and I ran her over. I felt really bad about it because I was going full-go and she was just getting in the way. I felt pretty bad…it was like four days before their first game.”

Buckeye fans will soon find out if the tough practices helped the women get ready for this year’s NCAA tournament. OSU tips off against Florida in their first round game Sunday at noon.

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