This isn’t the Ohio State program that Kam Williams, Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop committed to years ago. That isn’t lost on the trio of upperclassmen any more than it is on the fans who have seen the program dip from perennial NCAA Tournament participant to the ignominy of not even being extended an NIT bid last season.

What’s done is done. Williams, Tate and Bates-Diop can’t go back and undo injuries or illnesses to help the Buckeyes retroactively win games or save the job of Thad Matta, the coach who recruited them and believed in them.

What can be done now, all three have said, is to ensure that, as much as possible, they leave the program in the same shape they inherited it, while paving the way for better things.

In other words, although the Buckeyes face what is forecast to be a challenging first season under coach Chris Holtmann, a sense of optimism and renewal resides in the locker room.

“We just want it all to come to fruition,” Williams said. “It’s been a long time coming for us. One of my goals is to bring Ohio State back to where it was when I committed. That’s something that we talked about at the beginning of the summer.”

A fifth-year senior who redshirted as a freshman after contracting mononucleosis a few weeks before the season opener, Williams committed to the program on September 18, 2012, but didn’t play until 2014. During that period, the Buckeyes made two NCAA Tournament appearances and won three games.

But since Williams first officially suited up, there has been just one March Madness appearance, resulting in a solitary win. Tate is the only player on the roster who has played more than 20 minutes in the NCAA Tournament.

Now among the team’s elder statesmen, Tate said he thinks this season’s team will play without the hidden agendas that helped submarine the past two seasons.

“I think you guys are going to like what you see,” Tate said. “Just, the energy, the excitement, you’re going to see a lot of guys having fun out there. High-spirited guys. Definitely the bench being into it.”

Among outsiders, the Buckeyes are almost unanimously considered afterthoughts in the Big Ten race. In a poll of 28 Big Ten men’s basketball writers conducted jointly by The Dispatch and The Athletic, nobody picked the Buckeyes higher than ninth place, and only four picked them higher than 10th. No Buckeyes appeared on’s list of the top 101 players in the nation, or on ESPN’s list of the top 50.

Assistant coach Ryan Pedon has posted all the preseason predictions for Ohio State on the wall in his office. There’s a clear underdog mantra being cultivated, but Holtmann said that would be the case regardless of where the Buckeyes were picked.

Williams and Tate said they realized that expectations were low when they attended Big Ten media day in New York and found themselves largely ignored by reporters.

“It is what it is, right?” Holtmann said. “We have no control over that, but I think the reality is, that is who people say we are right now, and if at some point they’re going to say something different, we’re going to have to prove that. And until we do, and until we consistently prove it, that is going to be people’s opinions. That’s on us.”

All hopes of enjoying a significant turnaround in Holtmann’s first year lie in the hands of the program’s elder statesmen. Bates-Diop, after taking a medical redshirt last season, was listed by ESPN as the No. 69 NBA draft prospect in the world.

“I think we’ll go as our fourth- and fifth-year guys go,” Holtmann said. “Not just in their play, but in their leadership and how they help direct the team. In a lot of ways, our season is in their hands, and I’m excited about that because Keita, he is a really high-level young man.”

Bates-Diop said he’s not worried about outsiders' perception of the program.

“They don’t know what goes on in-house,” Bates-Diop said. “That would make sense based on last year’s results, but it’s not anywhere close to last year’s team, perspective, players, anything. We do want to leave a legacy here, whether it’s with coach Holtmann or the last class of Thad Matta. We want to leave a positive legacy and make ourselves proud.”