Bucknell success, growth has Jimmy Sotos ready for Ohio State

When Jimmy Sotos finished his junior year at Bucknell, he knew he had a decision to make. The point guard had one year left to play and would either spend a fourth year with the Bison or put his name in the transfer portal and hope to end his college basketball career with a high-major program.

Having performed well with Bucknell when the team played top competition, Sotos believed he would have an opportunity and decided to take his chances with the portal.

“I knew what decision I wanted to make,” Sotos told Bucknuts. “I knew I wanted to go somewhere where basketball was going to work out, where I have an opportunity to play a big role and help the team win.”

This is not to say Sotos had a poor experience at Bucknell. It was actually quite the opposite.

Growing up in a basketball home — his father played professionally in Greece for one year and his three older brothers all played in college — Sotos was entrenched in the game. While basketball was in his blood, he lacked the height to attract scholarship offers.

Heading into his final AAU season, Sotos — who grew from 5-foot-2 as a freshman to 6-foot-3 finally by his senior year at Conant High School in Elk Grove Village, Illinois — had no offers. Playing well for the Under Armour Association changed that.

“That summer, I got about 20 mid-major offers,” Sotos said. “I got some interest from some high-major schools and they were telling me if I did a year at prep school I could get some offers but I just wanted to get to college.”

At Bucknell, Sotos saw an opportunity to play early on that blended well with what he wanted academically. While he wasn’t a regular starter for the Bison, Sotos played 22.3 minutes per game as a freshman, averaging 4.8 points and two assists.

That season, Bucknell went 25-10 and won both the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles. The Bison made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed and faced Michigan State in the first round.

Bucknell gave the third-seeded Spartans a scare, eventually falling 82-78, but Sotos, who scored five points and registered two assists in 24 minutes, remembers fondly getting to and playing in the Big Dance for the first time.

“The obvious one would be winning the conference championship as a freshman,” Sotos said of his standout memory with the Bison. “That realization, that lifelong dream of going dancing and going to the tournament is coming true, it was an unreal feeling. I’ll never forget that. That was easily the best experience, most memorable experience I’ve had at Bucknell.”

Sotos sophomore season with the Bison was nearly as successful. As a starter, the point guard increased his averages to 8.2 points, 6.1 assists and 30.5 minutes per game. Bucknell shared the Patriot League regular season title with Colgate, after going 21-10 overall and 13-5 in conference play, but fell to the Raiders in the tournament’s finale meaning no return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

It was Sotos’ junior year where things really changed. Despite averaging 11.5 points and 3.9 assists in 32.1 minutes per game, the Bison struggled, stumbling to a 14-20 record and a seventh place finish in the Patriot League standings.

For Sotos and many of his teammates, it was the first time being on a losing team and the point guard admitted he did not handle it well at first.

“Guys started to get away from each other, we all started to get a little, not selfish but we were all kind of thinking about ourselves too much,” Sotos said. “We definitely would get too low on the losses and probably get too high on the wins as well. It was just a rough year. But looking back on it, I was able to come out of it positively.

“I honestly didn’t deal with it as well as I should have but I definitely matured from it, I learned a lot from it and the way I approach the game now… I kind of look at the game differently, in a more serious light.”

Once the year ended and Sotos made his decision to enter the transfer portal, it was about deciding where he wanted to play next. This time around, the recruitment process was different. Not only did the coronavirus pandemic mean Sotos couldn’t visit schools and meet coaches in person, but he also had interest from a host of programs that desired the point guard’s services.

Photo: Icon Sportswire, Getty

One of those schools was Ohio State, a program Sotos knew a bit about. Bucknell came to Columbus in December of 2018 in a game Sotos scored 12 points and registered five assists in a narrow 73-71 defeat at Value City Arena.

“I remember that game,” Sotos said of taking on the Buckeyes. “I think we were winning going into halftime and we lost a really close one. We had a shot at the buzzer to win it but it wasn’t a good look. I had a good game that game and that’s why when they reached out, it helped that they had seen me play and I had a good game against them so they knew what I was capable of. And I played against them so I knew their style of play, I knew how Coach coached in-game. So that definitely helped to make this decision, that trust.”

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In his new program, Sotos didn’t care much about seeing the campus. He wanted a place where he could contribute to a successful program that would help him further his basketball career. In addition, Sotos looked for good academics and coaches he could relate to. He found that all at Ohio State.

“When I started talking to (the Ohio State coaches), we hit it off right away,” Sotos said. “I was able to check out their roster, I was able to talk to some guys that I know around the NCAA that know the coaching staff at Ohio State and I’ve heard nothing but great things about them and how they’re men of integrity, how they do their job and how they’re professionals. And when I talked to the coaches, I saw that there would be a role that I could fill potentially and play a huge role in that position and help the team win.”

Sotos committed to Ohio State on April 6. He became the latest in a line of transfer point guards under Chris Holtmann who sat out a season before taking over reins of the Buckeyes. But unlike many transfers around the country, Sotos sees the year of not playing as a good thing.

According to the point guard, the 2020-21 season will allow Sotos to get his body where it needs to be to play in the Big Ten, work on his skills and get acclimated to the Scarlet and Gray’s style of play. “The year to develop was actually one of the reasons that sold me.”

Going forward, it’s all about Ohio State for Sotos. As one of three incoming transfers, including fellow point guard Abel Porter and forward Seth Towns, Sotos then had to get to campus once he was allowed. He had already started to get to know his teammates in group Zoom meetings.

Going forward, life is about building on everything he accomplished and learned in three years at Bucknell and preparing to help the Buckeyes behind the scenes next year and on the court in 2021-22.

“Apart from developing my personal game and just getting better as a basketball player, I want to definitely establish myself as a leader when it’s my year to play,” Sotos said. “I want to become an extension of coach Holtmann when I’m on the court. I think there’s a culture at Ohio State that’s established and I want to carry that and I want to keep that and I want to keep that going. I just want to do my part in my year off and get better, but then when it’s time for me to play, I hope that the work I put in it translates. So hopefully I can be an extension of the coach when I’m on the court and all that.”

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