BOISE, Idaho – It came up during a staff meeting during the frantic summer months after Chris Holtmann took the head coaching job at Ohio State. With a goal of reestablishing a culture of selflessness and appreciation for the university, an idea was suggested by one of the only holdovers from the previous regime: David Egelhoff, director of basketball operations for the Buckeyes.
The result is something that has echoed through locker rooms from Mackey Arena to the Moda Center to Madison Square Garden and back to Value City Arena after each of Ohio State’s 24 wins this season: the final few lines of the “Buckeye Battle Cry.”
“We’re always trying to teach our guys that they’re playing for something bigger than themselves,” Egelhoff told The Dispatch during the regular season. “They always hear me talk to them that just because you can put a round ball into an orange bucket doesn’t mean that makes you somebody. They’re trying to cure cancer across the street. Ohio State’s bigger than putting a basketball in a hoop, so I’m trying to instill that in various ways to make sure they know it’s bigger than them.”
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Once the decision was made to introduce the song to the postgame routine, a format needed to be established. Enter Scoonie Penn, program alumnus and newly hired director of player development.
Penn, as Egelhoff put it “put the flavor to it.” The result was more of a chant than a song, but the repeating of the line, “Our honor defend, we will fight to the end” three times before culminating with the final words: “for O-hi-o” while jumping up and down.
“Coach let me take it because I brought a little bit of energy and got the guys going and we just took it and ran with it,” Penn said. “It’s not Holtmann’s personality to really get hyped and get guys going, but it is mine, so he allows me to take that and run with it. “
The Buckeyes first tried it out after they beat Xavier in a closed, preseason scrimmage. It underwent minor tweaks during the early portion of the schedule before reaching its final form. Now it’s something the players look forward to.
Freshman Musa Jallow said as much after the Buckeyes prepared to head to Indiana for the final game of the regular season having snapped a two-game losing streak with a win against Rutgers.
“Usually that just puts the win in cement,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to. The past couple weeks we missed it a couple times and so to be able to sing it, everybody’s singing it with full hearts and that’s what we try to get to every game.”
It’s an attitude that both Egelhoff and Penn noticed as having been lacking in recent years. It’s also why this year’s team, after being picked to finish 11th in a preseason media poll conducted jointly by the Dispatch and the Athletic, has reached the NCAA Tournament.
“These guys, 1-14, are on the same page,” Egelhoff said. “It’s amazing to see what can be accomplished when guys collectively think like that. This is just one of those elements amongst many elements that we’ve run with.”
Now the hope is that the Buckeyes will get a few more chances to dance together, starting with today’s opening-round NCAA Tournament game against No. 12 seed South Dakota State.
“These guys like each other, and that is the most important part of having a successful team,” Penn said. “You’ve got to have a successful locker room. We do, and it shows on the court. They enjoy it. They enjoy singing that song and we just want to keep doing it.”