By Kyle Shaner
VERSAILLES – Justin Ahrens’ long recruiting process culminated Saturday morning when the Versailles senior celebrated his commitment to the Ohio State University men’s basketball program.
Ahrens, the son of Kevin and Susan Ahrens, celebrated his commitment on Saturday at Versailles High School in front of dozens of family members and friends. He had officially signed his letter of intent on Wednesday on the first day of the national signing period.
“This is a day I’ve dreamed of all my life,” Ahrens said. “Ever since the fifth grade I’ve been working real hard, watched my brother grow up. He’s kind of led the way for me so it’s been good.”
Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said Ahrens earned his scholarship through an incredible work ethic.
“You know he’s earned everything that he’s received,” Swank said. “He’s always in the gym working hard, and I’m just proud of him that he picked a school where he really wanted to go. I think Coach (Chris) Holtmann and his staff have a great, great influence on him and will put him in the right spots of where he’ll be successful as he goes along his Ohio State career.”
Ahrens originally gave his verbal commitment to Ohio State in August 2016 but decommitted in June after the Buckeyes fired head coach Thad Matta. Ohio State’s new coach, Holtmann, continued the pursuit of Ahrens, and the Versailles senior committed to the Buckeyes in September after looking at other programs including the University of Dayton, the University of Michigan, Purdue University, Vanderbilt University and Xavier University.
“Obviously with the firing of Coach Matta, that was my reason for decommitting,” Ahrens said. “I was confident in him. I was hoping to change the program around, but obviously with the hiring of Coach Holtmann it’s a major change. They won last night. They’re looking to turn things around so it’s going to be good. I’m excited for the future.”
This summer Holtmann had no players in his 2018 recruiting class, but that changed quickly as he picked up commitments from Jaedon LeDee from Houston, Texas; Duane Washington from Chatsworth, California; Luther Muhammad from Jersey City, New Jersey; and Ahrens all in one week.
“We’re just looking to help turn this program around, and we’re looking for the best,” Ahrens said of his goals at Ohio State along with his three classmates. “We’re looking to get a Big Ten championship, you know national championships, Final Fours, just keep on winning.”
In Ahrens, Ohio State is getting a 6-foot 5-inch player who averaged 22.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this past season. He was named the Midwest Athletic Conference boys basketball player of the year by the league, was named first team all-Ohio in Division III and the Division III co-player of the year by the Associated Press and was one of three players to earn a vote for Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award.
“He’s an overall basketball player,” Swank said. “He can do a lot of things on offense. He not only shoots the ball – I know he gets characterized as a shooter – but for us he does so much more than just shooting. He’s a good passer and a willing passer. He’s a good rebounder. He blocks shots. He’s athletic. And you know he’s a knock-down defender when he wants to be. He has an all-around game that I think is going to help him out at the next level.”
Ahrens has said he could play a number of positions in college including point guard, shooting guard or small forward.
“Justin is a versatile and skilled wing guard who has a terrific feel for the game,” Holtmann said, according to the official Ohio State athletics website. “He can really shoot the ball and is a deceptive athlete. We are very excited about him! As soon as we were able to spend some time getting to know Justin he became a major priority because of the impact we felt he could have in our program. We watched nearly all of his July games and I love his approach as a player and teammate. Being from just down the road in Ohio, Justin understands and has a great appreciation for this place. We think Justin’s versatility, shooting, IQ and feel will be really important for our program moving forward. Justin has been very well coached and he has a terrific support system with his family. We’re so excited to add them to our Buckeye family.”
As the lone Ohioan in Ohio State’s 2018 recruiting class, Ahrens hopes to establish a pipeline for sending the state’s top talent to the Buckeyes.
“I think it helps in the future classes,” he said. “Coach kind of told me this is a big commitment for this state. This is something the state’s been looking for, an in-state kid to come in. It’s going to help the future classes. I’ve been talking to a bunch of the younger guys in the following grades, trying to get them to come to Ohio State.”
Ahrens’ older brother, Kyle Ahrens, left Ohio to play college basketball for Michigan State. The Michigan State junior currently is out with a foot injury that could force him to miss the 2017-18 season.
Both he and Justin are looking forward to competing against each other next year – or possibly the next two years if Kyle misses this season and uses a redshirt.
“It’s going to be fun,” Justin Ahrens said. “We’re excited. We’ve been talking at home, tweeting at each other. We’re excited for it. He’s not really negative about it at all. He’s upbeat about it. He’s positive. He’s looking forward to the future so it’s going to be good.”
Prior to leaving for Ohio State, Ahrens is ready for his senior year of basketball at Versailles.
“It’s going to be a great year at Versailles,” he said. “We’re looking to have a great year. It’s going to be fun. We’ve been working real hard, just started practice last week, got a couple scrimmages this week. It’s been going well. We’re working hard and looking forward to everything.”
And the Versailles community is excited to get to see Ahrens play one more year for the Tigers and then in the future for the Buckeyes.
“I’m sure it’s really exciting for the whole community to have somebody on you know Saturday afternoons that they can go and they recognize the face and they can root for somebody,” Swank said. “There’s a lot of proud people here, not only in the community but I’m sure his parents are really proud, and as a coaching staff we’re really proud of him. And it didn’t matter if he went to Ohio State or if he went somewhere else; we were going to be proud of him not matter what.”