Doug Taylor gathered his teammates at center court to tell them next year will be different as the buzzer was about to sound on Ohio’s 68-55 loss to Miami on Tuesday at Millett Hall.
The Bobcats will be healthier next year. Their young players will mature. They’ll use this season as a learning experience. They have a lot to look forward to next season.
Mike Laster doesn’t have that luxury. Laster doesn’t have a next season to look forward to.
His teammates’ learning experience is his lasting memory. All he can do now is watch from afar and cheer them on.
“I just use it to motivate them to work hard,” Laster said. “Just to go as hard as they can so they’re not getting the same feeling next year.”
Laster’s senior season was his best, individually. But his two trips to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semi-finals are now bookended by first round exits.
This wasn’t what he envisioned when he became Saul Phillips’ first recruit at Ohio. Phillips carried a championship pedigree from North Dakota State. A multiple-trips-to-the-NCAA-Tournament pedigree.
But Laster won’t share that experience with his coach. Laster doesn’t harbor many regrets about his college experience, but that’s one of them.
“Really just not winning as much games as we should,” Laster said when asked about his biggest frustration. “And not clicking at the right times. And just … I don’t know, for real.”
Laster won't be remembered as part of a championship team, but his coach will never forget him. This season wasn’t as special for Laster as Phillips wanted, but Laster still posted career highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks.
He started every game he played after riding the bench for two years. When others might’ve transferred, he embraced the challenge. And for that reason, Phillips bestowed a sizable honor upon his lone four-year scholarship player at Ohio after Laster's final game.
“I just told him I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of a senior,” Phillips said.
Despite Phillips’ praise, it might be hard to recognize the impact Laster made on the Ohio program. After all, he only averaged six points, two rebounds and, if you round up, one assist for his career.
But Phillips will point to Laster as an example when future guards see their minutes dwindle. He’ll point to Laster again when those same guards struggle from 3-point range. And again when a player is unsure if he can play with a dislocated shoulder.
Laster overcame single-digit minutes, a jump shot that needed work and a busted shoulder over the years. Maybe if Phillips is lucky enough, a few of those future players will follow Laster’s lead.
“If you can have a locker room full of guys like that, you’re gonna be really, really deep at some point,” Phillips said.
Phillips and the Bobcats were supposed to run nine deep this season.
Laster’s senior season was set up for another run at the MAC title. Maybe his teammates could’ve sent him out on the note he deserved had it not been for the slew of injuries that hampered them all season.
Who knows, maybe they’ll do it for next year’s seniors. But for Laster, it wasn't in the cards.
“I would compare (this season) to playing cards and you just being dealt a bad hand,” Laster said. “And actually not doing as bad as you thought you would once we got our hand. We just played our cards.”