There are small wooden figurines on the coffee table in Saul Phillips’ office in The Convo. Each tiny wooden person wears a white Ohio jersey, which includes the players’ name and number.
Last season, they were new, each player on the Ohio roster having its own little piece on the office’s coffee table. But this season, they didn’t get updated. New faces in the program don’t have their figurine yet. The sculptures go largely untouched.
As much turnover as the program has gone through with transfers, graduation and incoming freshmen, few of the 1-inch characters accurately depict who suits up for Phillips nowadays.
One that doesn’t need updated is the little figure wearing a No. 22 jersey, with Block written on the back.
Through a topsy-turvy four years in which Ohio has ranged from Mid-American Conference favorite, to , to being voted to finish in the bottom half of the conference in other years, Gavin Block has been a constant inside The Convo, much like his miniature mold on Phillips’ table.
In a season in which Ohio has only won one road game, struggled through the first two weeks of conference play and now finally has a glimmer of hope, Block’s experiences have shaped him into a leader the Bobcats not only want to have but definitely need to have.
“Gavin’s playing like a senior,” Phillips said.
Block’s development and leadership was prevalent early in his career. Block grew up in Lincoln, Illinois, a podunk town in the heart of the Midwest similar to Phillips’ hometown of Reedsburg, Wisconsin.
A cookie-cutter prototype forward Phillips loves to roll with, Block made an instant impact for the Bobcats in 2015 and 2016, learning from past players such as Kenny Kaminsky, Jaaron Simmons and Treg Setty among others.
But there was only so much he needed to learn.
His basketball IQ gleamed from the start of his time in Athens. He put it to good use as an underclassmen, too. Block seemed to always be on the floor at the right time to take a charge or dive on the floor for the loose ball. As time marched on and Block became one of the leaders, the hustle plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet became crucial shots that save Ohio games — and maybe a season.
Down one to , Ohio desperately needed a bucket to pick up a home conference win. There stood Block, who hit a shot so descriptively poetic as an ode to how he plays. He pump-faked, saw the defender blow by him in the air, took one dribble and knocked down a 3 from the top of the key to give the Bobcats the lead — and a win.
He’s been groomed for a shot like that, and like much of his career, he was in the perfect place at the perfect time to make a play.
“It feels great,” Block said of that game-winning shot. “That’s what seniors are supposed to do. Take it one stride at a time. (Carter) got me open, and I have to knock them in.
“We’re getting more comfortable and more confident. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Shots like that are why Block is a fan-favorite, as well as a coach’s choice. His news conferences sound like he’s Phillips’ mouthpiece — cerebral, thoughtful answers for each question. His level head and smart play yield results, whether they are the hustle plays Phillips has watched for years or the big shots Block seems to cash every game nowadays.
Of course, Block isn’t the only leader or heroic piece inside the Ohio locker room. Jason Carter’s emerged as Ohio’s best player through three months of the season. Carter might be more skilled or better equipped to lead a team in scoring — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t soaking in every minute he has with Block, trying to learn from the wily old senior.
Block embraces the leadership aspect. He also appreciates his role as a contributor, not only as a veteran, but also as somebody who brings everything he does to the floor in game.
“I have a job to do, all these guys have a job to do,” Block said. “When you’re in there, you just have to do it.”
As the season enters its final five weeks, time to learn from Block is dwindling. With only five more games in The Convo, Block is making the most of the home stretch that is his senior year.
If Phillips decides to update the characters on his coffee table inside his office in the spring, he’ll have to pack up the No. 22 figure, one that represents somebody who has been through the ringer of a college basketball career and grown to be a leader.
He also might just be the key to a second-half turnaround before the MAC Tournament.