One of the most interesting things about having a new Ohio State basketball coach is realizing that the slate of conversation topics is wiped clean. For neither good nor bad reasons, there were some things that just wouldn’t be part of a Thad Matta press conference because, after 13 years, many kinds of ground had often already been covered.
So it was somewhat revealing to me how Chris Holtmann opened Wednesday’s press conference in the hallway outside of the practice gym at Value City Arena. On the heels of announcing a much-desired home-and-home series with Cincinnati and moments away from starting his fourth practice of the season, Holtmann opened up with some non-basketball thoughts.
“I do want to begin just to say I think this has been a hard week for everybody and certainly as a program our thoughts are with all those that have been impacted by what’s happened in Las Vegas,” he said. “As much as anything as a coach I think we’re always trying to make sure our players and we as a program understand there’s a lot of stuff that’s bigger than us and bigger than what we’re doing. This is an example for us to make sure our players are reminded that there’s some tough stuff going on. Obviously we’re a ways away from it but our hearts are with those that have been impacted by it.”
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Las Vegas is a city every college basketball coach in America is intimately familiar with owing to the long hours on the recruiting trail. But no player on Ohio State’s roster hails from the region, and just one – walk-on Connor Fulton, from Utah – is from west of the Mississippi River.
And yet, Holtmann opened with that. I feel like that provides a tiny glimpse into what makes him tick.
So, too, was his answer when asked about social activism in sports potentially trickling down to the collegiate level.
“That is something that we’ll have a discussion with as we get closer to game day,” he said. “I think that will be something we’ll have to think through and talk through as a team, but I believe in the right for our players to express themselves based on their own convictions. I really believe in that. I’ve not had a player in the past that has wanted to do that, but if someone did then I would want to discuss that with them and I would certainly support them.”
The issue of kneeling during the national anthem isn’t implicitly mentioned in the question or response, but the implication is there. At the team’s media day last week, likely captain Keita Bates-Diop said the Buckeyes were more focused on the things they can control on the court and weren’t too concerned with protests and such.
It’s ground I covered with Matta and the Buckeyes last season, but interesting nonetheless.