Makayla Waterman was one of Kevin McGuff's most important early recruits.
Four years later, she wants to remind Ohio State basketball fans why.
“I talk with my teammates all the time: I can finally show people the reason why they recruited me,” said Waterman, a fourth-year junior who was a four-year starter at Fairmont, where she was a four-star recruit and one of the catalysts for a state championship team.
“In Dayton they know why, but a lot of people around here haven't really seen it. So this is my year I can show everybody and show myself why they brought me here.”
It’s fair to say the first three seasons in Columbus haven’t quite gone the way Waterman, a 6-foot-2 forward, hoped they would.
She was part of McGuff’s first recruiting class, signing along with AAU teammates Kelsey and Chelsea Mitchell and Alexa Hart plus Asia Doss, but a torn ACL kept her off the court during her first year in college.
Waterman averaged just under 14 minutes per game the last two seasons while scoring 3.2 points and grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game.
Much of the playing time in the frontcourt was gobbled up by three players who weren’t scheduled to be part of the program when she signed her national letter of intent, but now two of them are gone.
Shayla Cooper (who transferred from Georgetown) graduated and was a second-round WNBA draft pick after two second-team All-Big Ten seasons.
Tori McCoy (a five-star 2016 signee) showed major potential as a freshman last season but opted to transfer in the spring.
Stephanie Mavunga, a North Carolina transfer, was the Buckeyes center when healthy last season, averaging 11.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She is back, but Waterman and Hart should get the first crack at minutes at the four, a perimeter position in McGuff’s dribble-drive offense.
"It's hard to accept the fact you're not No. 1 when you get to college – you’re not the go-to player anymore. And I’m not saying that for everybody I'm just saying in general that's hard,” Waterman said. “I think you get a lot of that in women's basketball. People want to go to a team and have an impact. That's understandable. But for us the five of us that came here together, we started together, we want to end it together. That's what we're really happy about.
"My teammates tell me all the time to shoot the ball when I have it, and that's just not how I think anymore,” said Waterman, who averaged 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as a senior for the Firebirds. “I think this year they've really helped me build my confidence. I think you'll see a big difference in that this year."
Despite losing Cooper to graduation and McCoy and Kiara Lewis to transfers, hopes are again high in Columbus.
The defending Big Ten champions have extra motivation for ending their 25-year Final Four drought next spring: The Final Four will be in downtown Columbus.
“I think this could be a very special year,” Waterman said. “Obviously the Final Four being here and all of us were recruited by Coach McGuff, so this year if not any other year I think is the year that things need to go the right way.
“I'm happy that everybody I came in with is still here so it's a chance for us to prove there's a reason why we're here, there's a reason this all happened. I think that's kind of what we're working towards -- being here in Columbus come March, April."
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