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Ohio University freshman Gavin Block dribbles in for the shot against the University of Akron Feb. 2. The Bobcats lost the game 80-68. 

Men's Basketball: Freshman Gavin Block is ahead of schedule in producing for Ohio

The young shooter has gained the trust of teammates and coaches alike to get consistent minutes off the bench for the Bobcats.

It was almost the kind of play that cements fans' early impression that they might have witnessed a future star.

Then, it was almost the end of that player’s season.

With about seven minutes left in the second half of a game Ohio would go on to win by six points, Ball State guard Jeremiah Davis dribbled the ball near the top of the key when Ohio freshman Gavin Block got his hand on the ball for the steal.

Block maintained possession down the court and sprinted toward the basket before going in for a nearly uncontested layup attempt.

Only, Block’s left leg didn’t give any push. Block missed the layup and crumpled to the floor as Davis quickly grabbed the rebound during the Jan. 9 game at The Convo.

When the two teams raced to the other end of the court, Block stayed behind, unable to put any pressure on his leg.

“I was scared because I saw the look on the trainer’s face when I was saying what happened,” Block said.

Assistants carried him to the bench.

After the game, he was carried to the bleachers by teammates.

Following that, he walked only with a crutch. Most people speculated a knee injury, one that would be remembered somberly when he would return to the court some time next December.

Instead, he returned 10 days later. It wasn’t his knee, but a hamstring injury, and a minor one at that. The Bobcats had one of their best freshmen back on the court.

“It seemed like it was gonna be really bad at the time," Block said. "I feel really fortunate that I got back on the court so quick.”

Ohio probably feels fortunate, too. At 16.7 minutes per game, Block has seen more of the court than any freshman on the team except for Jordan Dartis, a regular starter at guard for Ohio.

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Block also has played the most minutes of anyone on the team who hasn’t started a game yet.

The Bobcat coaches entrusted Block with heavy minutes early in the season, and each time they did, the freshman rewarded them. He scored 12 and 19 points in his first two games with 20+ minutes on the floor. He posted a career-high 20 against St. Bonaventure.

His Mid-American Conference breakout came against Western Michigan, when he shot 5-for-7 from the field en route to a 16 point, five rebound, three assist night.

“(Block’s) so solid mentally,” redshirt junior Kenny Kaminski said. “When he gets into the game, he’s able to get right into the flow of things. That makes a team dangerous to have a bench that’s no step down from the starters. … We need him.”

Kaminski took Block under his wing early this season because of the similarities in their game play. Both players are gifted outside shooters, but must think of things on the court to make up for what Kaminski admitted was a “lack of defensive footspeed.”

One way the two are different, however, is the conditioning each has been tasked with undertaking since arriving on the college basketball scene.

At Michigan State, Kaminski was forced to shed weight, but for Block to succeed, his coaches want to see the 6-foot-6, 195-pound teenager pack on a few pounds.

“His upside has everything to do with him getting physically stronger,” coach Saul Phillips said. “You might see him get thrown around right now, but he is tough. He takes more charges than anybody on our team in practice. But he’s got a very steady hand and makes good decisions.”

In a sense, Block represents many things about what the Bobcats are in 2016: a young, flawed team that has managed to flourish and shine brightly at times and crumbles to the floor at others.

Even better, however, is that Block also represents what the Ohio basketball program has to look forward to: a young, talented group of kids getting noticeably better, often even exceeding expectations, with plenty of time to get stronger and reach its upside.

It's not quite time for Block and Ohio to think of the future, though. Right now, both just have taken the ball from the offense’s hands. They’re about to cross the halfcourt line, and the basket is in the distance.

All they need to worry about is keeping their footing and hoping their legs don't give out when they reach the net.


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