Big Ten Tales: Ohio State's Scoonie Penn

Big Ten Tales: Ohio State's Scoonie Penn

What’s the best way to settle a friendly argument over what type of music to play in the locker room? For former Ohio State basketball star Scoonie Penn and his Buckeye teammates, the solution was wrestling. I met Penn in the Big Ten Network studio to hear that story and others from his Ohio State playing days for my latest Big Ten Tales.

After transferring to Ohio State from Boston College after the 1997 season, Penn enjoyed two outstanding years under Buckeyes coach Jim O’Brien. The 5-foot-11 point guard was honored as the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year in 1998-99, became Ohio State’s all-time leader in made three-pointers, and went on to play 10 years of professional basketball overseas.

More recently, he’s worked as analyst on “Big Ten Basketball Report,” one of several studio shows on BTN. You starred at Ohio State in the late 1990s, but you didn’t start your playing career in Columbus. Can you take me through the story of how you wound up at Ohio State?
Scoonie Penn: Well, I was born and raised a Boston kid, so I ended up staying at home and going to BC. After my sophomore year, I remember watching TV and I see that Coach O’Brien, who was my coach at the time, is leaving Boston College for Ohio State.

When O’Brien left, we had guys in my year transfer, but I was stuck in the middle. I had a really good sophomore year, but I wanted to play with my coach. My choice was enter the draft, stay at BC or transfer, so I sat back and thought about it long and hard. I thought the best move for me was to stay in college because I wanted to get my degree. I remember my first visit was to Ohio State and I knew they had a lot of rebuilding to do. But in the end, I really enjoyed it there and I wanted to help rebuild that program, so I ended up in Columbus. You and Michael Redd formed one of the greatest college backcourts not only that year, but of that entire decade. How was it playing alongside him?
Penn: I love Mike. We remain great friends. But when playing, to be honest, Mike and I would bump heads. You would never think that if you watched us on the court. Why was that? Two superstars trying to share one backcourt?
Penn: Well, to understand why, you first have to understand that we’re both very competitive guys. I would say stuff to him in order to push him, and vice versa, because both of us were about results and winning basketball games. We pushed each other in order to make the other player better. But that never had anything to do with our friendship. We have a great relationship, but that was just one of those things that made us so good as a backcourt, because we held each other accountable. There was no backcourt better than us in college basketball. Do you have any good stories with Michael (Redd) or any of your other former teammates?
Penn: I’ve played on a lot of basketball teams in my lifetime, but that Ohio State team was special because we were all so tight. We would talk a lot of trash to each other, but it was all fun and games. About what?
Penn: A lot of stuff, mostly music. Half of our team were East Coast guys that came over when Coach O’Brien left from Boston College. The other half were Midwest guys, who grew up in or around Ohio. Well, because we were from different parts of the country, we liked different kinds of music. All the Midwest guys all wanted to listen to Tupac, while us East Coast guys, we wanted Biggie, Jay Z or Nas. It was kind of like a locker room divided when it came to music. How did you settle it?
Penn: We would turn on the music and we would have rap battles. We all grew up in that rap generation so this was a big deal for us. To be honest, we were all horrible. But you couldn’t tell us that at the time. We thought we were all pretty good. What else?
Penn: Well, a lot of times after practice, once we had the music going, we would literally sit in the locker room and have wrestling matches. Guys would talk trash about this and that, and we would see how tough you were. I’m sitting here at about 5-foot-10 and I would wrestle guys that were literally a full foot taller than me. Any epic matches that come to mind?
Penn: I remember one time I had to go up against a teammate of mine, George Reece. He was about 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, built like a defensive end. The entire team got real into it and went wild when I beat him. Most of the time, the little guys won because we had leverage. Did Coach O’Brien have any idea this was going on at the time?
Penn: He was probably aware of it, but he didn’t mind. We were a real close group and we have memories like that, which stick with us today. When we get together now days, we always reminisce about those matches. It wasn’t on the court, but it was one of those things that made us close. Do you still keep up with Ohio State basketball today?
Penn: Yes, I live in Columbus and I’m pretty close with some of the current players. During the summer time, we play against current players. We have open gym at Ohio State, which is highly competitive. Guys really get after it. I’m close with the university and I love Ohio State University – it’s been good to me. I try to help some of the younger players with their game as a way to give back. What do you think of this year’s team?
Penn: Thad Matta is a great coach and he has one of the top programs in the country. This year’s team could take its lumps in such a tough conference. They will play excellent defense, so stopping people won’t be a problem, it will be finding some scoring outside of Deshaun Thomas. Thad Matta teams will always compete and they should be right in the mix of things at the end of the season. Are they as good as the teams you played on?
Penn: We’ll save that for a later conversation.

About Sean Merriman contributor Sean Merriman interviews Big Ten names and asks them for a great story about their days in the Big Ten for our Big Ten Tales section.