NEW YORK — As a kid growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, Chris Holtmann wore his influences on his socks. A basketball devotee who obsessed over Kentucky, Holtmann especially admired Kyle Macy, a three-time All-America point guard who went on to be a first-round NBA draft pick.
When in elementary school, Holtmann would go to the free-throw line and wipe his hands on his socks just like Macy did. That level of detail paid to a point guard has followed Holtmann throughout his coaching career, where he will cajole, goose and attempt to squeeze everything he can out of a position significantly low on depth for Ohio State this season.
For C.J. Jackson, Jae’Sean Tate, Andrew Dakich and possibly others, Holtmann has offered fair warning that he’ll be paying particular attention to the point guard position.
“I’m not particularly the easiest guy for point guards to play for at times, so we’ll work through some of that stuff together,” he said. “I don’t know (why). I’ve gotten that a few times.”
Last season at Butler, Kamar Baldwin was a unanimous all-freshman choice in the Big East after averaging 10.1 points and helping hold down the point guard position for Holtmann’s team. He finished with 50 assists and 51 turnovers but said he had a good relationship with his coach despite some extra attention.
“We joke off the court sometimes, but on the court it was business,” Baldwin said Wednesday at Big East media day inside Madison Square Garden. “We’re trying to get better, win games, win championships. He was hard on the point guards, but none of us took it personally.”
A key point Holtmann consistently harped on, Baldwin said, was an oft-repeated phrase around the Ohio State program for the last few seasons: Aim to make singles, not always home runs.
It’s that sort of mantra that allowed Jackson to eventually usurp JaQuan Lyle as the starter last season for the Buckeyes despite boasting fewer natural physical gifts. It’s also one being preached to Tate, who has grown into a thousand-point scorer thanks to his uncanny ability to position his body on the block against players much taller and bigger. Dakich, after transferring from Michigan, will help out, too, and allow Kam Williams to stay at shooting guard.
Now a senior, Tate is officially listed as a forward on the team roster and has 118 assists and 159 turnovers. Although he’s being asked to initiate the offense, he’s not being asked to be a true floor general, he said.
“This year, I feel like we have a lot more forwards that are interchangeable,” he said. “Coach Holtmann saw the potential in me to make plays, put the ball on the floor, drive into the gaps, kick it to the open man. I think it’s going to be good.”
Jackson, meanwhile, is preparing to see his role grow. If he has to play 30 minutes or more per game, the transfer from Eastern Florida State College said he’s up for it — and the challenge of being Holtmann’s primary concern.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “My body will be ready. My mind will be ready. I’ll be ready to help lead this team to things to come and hopefully get back to winning Big Ten championships.”