Ryan Pedon is known as a closer in terms of recruiting, but the newly hired Ohio State assistant men's basketball coach didn't have to be sold on his new school.

Pedon grew up enamored with the Buckeyes and even was a ball boy from 1988-92.

Now the 1996 Bexley High School graduate and former Lions player has a prominent role in trying to resurrect the Ohio State program. Things have come full circle for Pedon, and he couldn't be happier.

"When I was growing up, I was one of the ball boys under (coaches) Gary Williams and Randy Ayers," said Pedon, who came from Butler University last month with new head coach Chris Holtmann. "I was going to the OSU basketball games, which were at St. John (Arena) then, and going to (Ohio Stadium) to watch football games. I still remember our (football) seats; we were 5A, row 14, seats 1, 2, 3 and 4.

"Gosh, going from being a ball boy to end up coaching here, it's a blessing. It's still kind of hard to believe."

It has been a long road for Pedon to return to central Ohio. After graduating from Bexley and playing four seasons at the College of Wooster, Pedon joined the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant at Miami University in 2000. He also was an assistant at Kent State, Toledo and Illinois before joining Holtmann's staff at Butler.

"I have been single-minded all my life, and basketball has been my existence. I've been interested in it 24-7," Pedon said. "I was going to Bexley basketball games with my dad (Felix) and following (the Lions) in the tournament. Some of my earliest heroes were the high school players and I really looked up to them.

"There were guys from the (1983 Class AA) state championship team that I really looked up to. ... Guys like (1983 graduates) Steve Willard, Richard Gatterdam, David Elliott -- really all of them -- and (1985 graduate) John Betz. John Betz is sort of unique because he was an idol of mine growing up, he was an assistant coach when I was in high school and now consider him to be a friend. He's like an older brother to me."

Betz believed Pedon was destined for success. He saw Pedon, even at a young age, as having the right temperament for coaching.

"Just knowing Ryan for so long, he's always had that drive and personality," said Betz, who recently was named the first athletics director at Olentangy Berlin. "Ryan was always very cerebral. He knows the game really, really well, and he loves the game.

"When you grow up in Bexley -- in that little bubble we have, especially in the 1980s and 90s -- basketball is a big part of the community. He fed off that and he caught the bug to continue that through coaching."

That bug was planted with the help of Gene Millard, a longtime Bexley coach and family friend. Pedon said Millard bent the rules for the basketball program's annual youth camp to allow him to participate as a second-grader, a year earlier than normal.

"Bexley basketball was a part of my fabric, and coach Millard was a big influence on my life," Pedon said. "A lot of that came from coach Millard and the culture he put into place, and he was a part of the program for a long time. It all sort of went hand in hand because of the great community and great tradition. It has a way of repeating itself year after year."

Millard coached boys basketball at Bexley from 1962-87 and again from 1992-96. He won 496 games, 15 league titles and eight district championships, along with the 1983 state title.

After graduating from Dayton Stivers in 1953, Millard played at Ohio State and was the team captain and team MVP in 1956-57. He scored the first basket in St. John Arena, which opened Dec. 1, 1956, with a 98-52 win over Butler.

"You could see from the very beginning that Ryan would make something of himself," said Millard, who also was athletics director and coached girls basketball at Bexley. "He had that work ethic and was always team first. I can't say enough about the young man and what he has been able to accomplish. He was one of those kids that you don't have the opportunity to coach that often.

"Ryan's also a great recruiter, and that's not a surprise. If you spend any time with him, you can't help but be impressed with him. It's great to have a person like him get into this position. He's a great all-around person and a great basketball coach."

Betz said the recruiting expertise is evident from the connection Pedon makes with everyone.

"It's no coincidence; he's just genuine," Betz said. "He can talk to the parents, and he can talk to the kids. He cares about the kids, he loves what he does and it shows. They are going to bring some good (players) in here. He has a knack of knowing Ohio."

Pedon not only knows the state, but he understands what the recruiting process is like from both sides -- player and coach. It helps him connect with recruits and their parents and navigate through a process that, because of technology and NCAA regulations, has been in flux since Pedon first became an assistant coach at Kent State in 2002.

"I still think building relationships and gaining trust are two of the most important factors in recruiting," he said. "The only way to do it is to be genuine and authentic with people. I don't think those things ever change. Building relationships and trust requires time and effort, and you have to have a connection. You can't build trust without a connection.

"Also, you need to be transparent to people. I like to think I'm real with people on the telephone. I don't put on a show but I'm passionate about where I am, and that's why I coach. That comes out as I get to know the kids and their family."

Aside from being on the recruiting trail, Pedon has been helping his wife, Stephanie, and their 5-year-old son, Maddox, move from Indianapolis to Worthington.

In the coming months, he expects to think often about his time as a ball boy for the fiery Williams and the subdued Ayers.

"That fueled my love for the game and got me involved at Ohio State, and got me on the floor with the players and team that I loved," Pedon said. "I would go to school (on game days) and all day long I couldn't stop thinking about (being a ball boy). It's still like that. I love what I do."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen