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The news itself came as a surprise to Harrison Hookfin. The fact that he had earned it did not.
Sunday afternoon, the Ohio State men’s basketball team was inside the home locker room at Value City Arena celebrating a hard-fought, 61-56 win against Penn State. Huddled up around coach Chris Holtmann, the Buckeyes listened as he started to speak about loving to reward players who have played important roles for the program.
With Justin Ahrens on his left and Jimmy Sotos on his right, Hookfin’s ears started to burn a little bit. And when Holtmann finished his speech by announcing that the fourth-year walk-on from Lebanon, Ohio, was being put on full scholarship, a smiling Hookfin was mobbed by his teammates.
He’d come a long way from a lightly used reserve who had averaged less than a point and a rebound as a prep junior, but that much wasn’t a surprise to Hookfin.
“My parents instilled in me that hard work eventually pays off,” he told The Dispatch after Tuesday night’s 83-37 win against IUPUI. “I had an inkling that I would have some success in high school. The fact that it happened my senior year definitely did not go as planned, but I’ve been a confident person so I figured I’d have success eventually.”
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As a senior, Hookfin averaged a team-high 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing 29.7 minutes per game and drew the attention of a few Division III schools but had his eyes set on Ohio State for two reasons. First, as a native Ohioan, it had always been the dream school. Second, Hookfin plans to enter medical school with an eye on the ICU and was drawn to the school’s renown in that field.
Lebanon coach Kevin Higgins reached out to some connections he had at Wooster, one of the schools recruiting Hookfin, and got in contact with Ohio State assistant and Fighting Scots alumnus Ryan Pedon to put his star senior on the radar.
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Hookfin enrolled at Ohio State as a student and, when the Buckeyes had a 2018-19 midseason need for practice bodies with decent size, was added to the roster in mid-January. Now, three years later, Hookfin has 16 appearances under his belt and a scholarship.
Tuesday, barely 48 hours after being converted from walk-on status, Hookfin subbed in for the final 4:23 against the Jaguars and scored his first points on the season on a drive from the left wing that ended with a jump stop and floater in the paint.
“Our guys loved that,” Holtmann said. “I thought our guys were wanting him to hunt a shot. It’s been a good week for Harrison Hookfin.”
With an actual crowd that looked to be about half the announced attendance of 10,666, individual comments carried clearly through Value City Arena and Hookfin said he heard from plenty of fans congratulating him on the scholarship. It was awarded now because the Buckeyes had kept a spot open in case they were to add a midseason transfer.
A biology major, Hookfin said it will help him better financially prepare for medical school.
“Growing up, I was a kid who knew what they wanted to do early so med school and basketball were two things that have always been my thing,” he said. “I wanted to go to med school, and that takes a lot of time. If I was going to take the time away from that, I wanted it to be something that’s worth it.”
Holtmann has said that a primary attribute they look for in walk-ons is the ability to physically withstand the demands of the role. Hookfin was 6-foot-1, 215 pounds as a junior at Lebanon but hit a growth spurt leading into his senior year. He’s now listed at 6-6, 195 pounds and has dramatically changed his body with the help of strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Hookfin has spent the majority of his time grinding in practice while totaling 42 minutes of on-court time. In 16 total appearances, Hookfin has scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and recorded two steals and one assist.
Those hard times don’t hold a candle to the good ones, he said.
“Of course with me wanting to go to med school, classes are hard,” he said. “If you have a bad week of classes, don’t do well on a test and then you’re not doing very much in practice or in a game, it’s like, what’s all this about? Those thoughts don’t really happen too often. It’s just being a human, I guess.
“I’m 100% thankful for everything I’m doing right now because it’s everything I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I can’t complain about anything.”
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Harrison Hookfin's hard work rewarded with scholarship for Buckeyes