Friday, March 26, 1999

Superstitious Buckeyes stick to routine

AP Sports Writer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Superstition saved Jim O'Brien's hair — sparing everyone else from what could have been a scary sight.

        The Ohio State coach had agreed to do a Mr. Clean with the rest of the team if it made it to the Final Four. But sometime after the Buckeyes' victory over St. John's in the regional final, their superstitious side took over.

        “They all said, 'We don't want to change anything. We just want to keep the routine, we want to keep what we're doing. We don't want to screw anything up. Why mess with it?”' he said.

        The 48-year-old O'Brien ran his fingers through his short, graying hair and laughed. He has no intention of changing his team's quirky ways.

        So, before Ohio State plays Connecticut on Saturday night in the national semifinals at Tropicana Field, rest assured the Buckeyes will be listening to Scoonie Penn's boom box, following him on the court and letting him take the first practice shot.

        Before that, they will sit in exactly the same order in precisely the same seats on the bus to the arena. And in the pregame meeting, they will sit in the same configuration before O'Brien — four chairs in a row at the front of the room.

        “I find it interesting,” O'Brien said, shaking his head. “I'm not going to get in the way of it.”

        Penn, the Buckeyes' fire hydrant-sized point guard, argues that the team is not superstitious.

        “It's just been our routine the whole season,” he said. “Now people are looking for the answer to why we're winning.”

        But senior forward Jason Singleton has no doubt a superstitious streak runs through the team.

        “Scoonie took his boom box to Puerto Rico and we won that tournament,” Singleton said. “He didn't take it to the Big Ten tournament and we lost. So we put two and two together and we figure we've got to take it to all our NCAA tournament games.”

        Penn is always the first in the line of Buckeyes going out on the court before a game and at halftime, and center Ken Johnson is always last. Penn always takes the first shot in warmups.

        It doesn't end there. Penn, Singleton and Neshaun Coleman — the team's captains — are the first players in the three-man weave drill in practice. Team trainer Mike Bordner always tapes ankles in the same order — right ankles then left, with a tap on the bottom of the foot at the end.

        Bordner also has worn the same suit for each NCAA tournament game, with the small pins given to each participant arranged in the same order on his lapel.

        O'Brien said many of the team's peculiarities stem from Penn's desire for order.

        “He likes direction, he likes organization,” O'Brien said.

        Earlier in the year, to break up the monotony of another practice and another repetitious drill, O'Brien decided to shake things up.

        “In my infinite wisdom I decided, why don't we just have shooting games instead and make it a little bit light? Guys can just choose up teams and we'll have a little tournament and we'll keep it competitive,” he said.

        But Penn didn't like it.

        A few practices later, O'Brien asked the team what it wanted to do in practice.

        “Scoonie said, 'No shooting games! Let's do our routine and do it the same way we always do,”' O'Brien said with a laugh.

        Penn was asked what would happen if he didn't come out first and didn't take the first shot in warmups.

        “Nothing,” he said. “But I'm not going to test it.”


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- Superstitious Buckeyes stick to routine
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