January 24, 1999
Let’s play a quick game of memory. Look at the Ohio State bench. Notice the coaching staff, the sixth man, the trainers. Close your eyes and open them again. Can you name that last guy wearing an Ohio State uniform? Here’s a hint: He’s wearing No. 31. Still can’t remember? Perhaps you need to work on your short-term memory skills. But, if you ask Kwadjo Steele, he’ll probably be comfortable with the lack of recognition. More comfortable working behind the scenes, Steele offers guidance and support for his teammates, assuring the Buckeyes enjoy their run of success.
“Most people in my situation right now would say that ‘since I’m not playing that much, what do I really care what happens,'” Steele said. “I find myself stressing out more than the guys that are playing.”
As one of the few players who played for both Randy Ayers and Jim O’Brien, Steele’s situation is even a bit more unique because he won a place on the squad only after walking on. “You don’t take things for granted and you appreciate everything,” he said of his experience.
“I didn’t play basketball during my freshman year,” Steele said. “You realize, once you don’t have something, how glad you are when that chance comes around again. I’m glad I had that experience early, now I have another year left to play basketball.” He’s taken on a new role this year as well. Growing more self-confident, Steele now offers guidance to his younger teammates, >from where to put their team bags to the proper attire to wear on road trips.
“It is frustrating at times because I feel like a parent because you’re nagging them at times,” he said. “It’s just that little things can kill teams and when you have someone that recognizes that, it makes the team better. I’m going to help out any way I can.” Steele uses practices as a proving-ground of sorts.
“I think by trying to make myself get better, the people that play are going to improve,” he said. Here’s something else you may want to consider: Steele values his academic performance even more than the chance to receive playing time. Last summer, Steele, a zoology major, interned at the Columbus Zoo. Some days he didn’t have any transportation (he doesn’t own a car), and was forced to rely upon friends to get him there on time. That didn’t stifle his enthusiasm, however. He handled a wide variety of exotic animals, from snakes to crocodiles. In the process, he narrowed down his future plans of either pursuing a career as an exotic animal veterinarian or a researcher. Before his day at the zoo began, Steele was up at the crack of dawn, on campus lifting weights, putting in the additional effort.
“Ohio State is a pathway for me,” Steele said. “People don’t understand that to make it easier for yourself later, you’ve got to make it harder for yourself right now. By working hard and getting good grades now, it might ease it up for me come graduation and when I look for jobs.” Rick Boyages, OSU associate head coach, said Steele has done all the coaches and his teammates have asked.
“He epitomizes everything you’d want in a student-athlete,” Boyages said. “He is as hard-working as anyone on the roster and is dedicated and committed. He accepted his original role as a walk-on and has proven himself to be a tremendous person.” Steele sees his task as simple.
“By keeping myself (out of trouble), my grades up and being respectful, that helps our team image,” Steele said. “My remaining goals are to make myself the best player I can be. My ultimate goal is to help make these next two teams ones that people can remember and be proud of.
“I want people to have a general overall good feeling about Ohio State basketball.,” Steele said. “If I can help make it one which is respectable and people remember after we’re long gone, that will be the end of my goals. I’ll be very happy with my career.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good player on a good team, even when I was in junior high,” Steele said. “I respect great teams because everyone gets more recognition. I first wanted to make the team. Once I made it, I wanted to help make it one the University could look back on and be proud of. We have great guys and a positive image, which is something we did not have two years ago.”
Take another look at the bench. Slow down a bit as your eyes move down the row of players clad in scarlet and gray. He’s there, tucked between the managers and his teammates. And if, by chance, he is inserted in the game, give him more than that polite applause reserved for the last few seconds of a not-so-close game. He deserves it. He’s earned it.
“To get the grades I have, I’ve had to work very hard. That’s the approach I have for basketball and life in general,” he said. “You can’t just cruise by in anything. That’s why I know I’ll never win the lottery. God meant for me to work hard, and that’s what I do. It makes me a better person.”
Kimberly N. Parker