Not even eight weeks into the job, Chris Holtmann met some of his most important clientele Tuesday night at Value City Arena.
At an event called “An Evening with Coach Holtmann,” the Ohio State men’s basketball coach spent more than an hour addressing, taking questions from and meeting with more than 825 season-ticket holders about the program and its direction.
He followed that with a standard news conference. Plenty of ground was covered during the course of the night, and here are a few observations:
In-state games could be coming
The question wasn’t even finished and the attendees were applauding. One man asked Holtmann about playing the likes of Cincinnati, Dayton and Xavier during the season, perhaps in something akin to the Crossroads Classic held annually in Indianapolis. That features Butler, Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame.
“I’m certainly not opposed to it,” he said. “I gave Indiana a lot of credit for playing in that because you probably have a little more to lose if you’re sitting in that seat. I think it’s a fun event for (the fans).”
He then asked how many fans would like to see Ohio State play in an event like that.
“It’s something that we’re engaging (teams) in,” he said. “By no means am I sitting back here saying there’s no way we’re going to play one of those programs, because those are quality programs. Part of our job is to provide an opportunity that’s exciting for our fans. We’re working on some things. In terms of final decisions it’s probably a ways off, but certainly open to it.”
D’Angelo Russell’s comments did not bother Holtmann
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the one-and-done Buckeye whose image is plastered prominently around the arena said he’s not sure he’ll ever go back after his coach, Thad Matta, was fired.
That’s fine by Matta’s replacement, who after an initial lukewarm response has won over many of the program’s prominent alumni.
“I think in a lot of ways it speaks really well of him,” Holtmann said. “He’s loyal to Thad, and I think at some point I’ll reach out to D’Angelo. He knows a player I coached at Butler. We would love and welcome him back. Someone brought that to my attention and I didn’t think anything other than that’s a man who loved his coach, and there’s a lot of reasons to love Thad. I looked at it and totally got it and wasn’t alarmed in any way. We’ve had incredible support from the former players. If he wants to come back around, we’d love to have him around. He made a great contribution to this place and I think this place made a great contribution to him.”
Holtmann is putting in work to re-engage the fans
Holtmann said he’s open to making the event an annual get-together and is also looking for ways to engage the students. Among the pieces of unsolicited advice Holtmann said he has received from other coaches while out recruiting last month was to find ways to help grow the student section.
“I keep coming back to the guys that we have, and I told them this when I met them: ‘Listen, you’re a really impressive group of people. Make sure that you spend time on campus getting to know other people and other students because they’re going to want to come and see you play,’ so I think as much as possible, engagement with students, myself, our staff but our players is going to be important. It’s critical,” Holtmann said.
Matta is welcome around the program
As Holtmann was shaking hands and smiling for photos, a photograph was posted to Twitter showing Matta in Baltimore to cheer on the Scarlet and Gray team as part of The Basketball Tournament.
Guess who's in house to watch @ScarletGrayTBT in @thetournament semis on @ESPN? Coach Thad Matta. Great to see him! pic.twitter.com/ZWFiW4teNb— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) August 1, 2017
After 13 years of leading the Buckeyes, Matta isn’t in any hurry to rejoin the coaching world. Holtmann was presented with an interesting question: would he be welcome around the program this year if so desired?
“I would love, at the appropriate time, for that to happen,” Holtmann said. “I’d love for him to be around, but that will be purely his decision. There’s not going to be any pressure from me on that. From what I understand, Thad’s in a really good place right now and I think he’s enjoying family and spending time there so I wouldn’t want to push that on my end, but he would always be welcome, from my perspective, to come around whenever he wanted to.”