Two days and more than a thousand miles after Ohio State ended its season with a loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann hosted his final weekly call-in show of the season. The show was pre-recorded earlier in the day.
In case you couldn’t tune in, here are the highlights.
*The question of whether or not Keita Bates-Diop will return for a fifth season at Ohio State is the biggest one as the Buckeyes enter the offseason. Holtmann said when the season ended at Taco Bell Arena, he had a chance to thank the players for the season.
“Those are really emotional times,” he said. “It’s always a reflective time in the locker room and it’s more emotional the better season you have. We took some time together just to be together as a team as much as you’re allowed before the media can come in. Every year you go into it hoping that you’re not going to be emotional, but it never happens. You’re really appreciative of the leadership of this group, and that’s who you’re losing, the leaders of this group. I wanted our younger guys to understand they had a great example of leadership of Jae’Sean, Keita and Kam.”
As he continued, Holtmann reiterated that Bates-Diop hasn’t decided anything.
“Then you add Andrew Dakich into that mix. Two four-year guys and a fifth-year guy in Kam and a guy who just joined our team but had an impact in Andrew. The better the leadership, and this group was led really well. Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop were all about the right things you’d want your older guys to be about: Ohio State winning, no agenda, handled anything off the floor in the locker room.
“To see those guys go, and obviously Keita’s got a decision to make, but three of those four guys we know we’re not going to get to coach, that’s an emotional day.”
*Holtmann was asked how he approaches helping a player with such a decision.
“You get in this because you really want what’s best for the young people you’re coaching,” he said. “Keita told me afterwards this is maybe the most special year he’s had playing the game, so we know that if he does make the decision that he feels like is best it’s not because he’s leaving anything. He loves this place and loves being here, but at the end of the day we’ll sit down and meet with his family. I’ll speak with his family (Monday) or (Tuesday) and set up a time to have a conversation about that.”
Holtmann said Bates-Diop improved in a number of ways this year.
“He got certainly more assertive as a player,” he said. “We tried to put him in spots where he could be really successful and he got to those spots. I thought he got a little bit tougher and more used to the physicality that you have to play with. He was really good in the NCAA Tournament. I thought his play in both games was like, ‘OK, I’m a really good player.’ He knows he can continue to improve and as he grows his game as a pro, his ball handling and his passing will improve. He’s a fantastic player. Whether he’s here for another year or he goes pro, he’s going to have an outstanding career.
“The hardest things was when teams would try to take away his spots by holding him on cuts or being really physical on his cuts or really sell out and not guard (our guys). I thought he did a great job figuring out where he could impact the game on both ends.”
*Despite falling behind 15-0 to open the game, Holtmann said the Buckeyes remained upbeat at the half.
“After those first four minutes where we had some self-inflicted wounds that created the deficit, Gonzaga missed some plays but we missed some layups,” he said. “After that point it was pretty much an even half, so we felt like if we eliminated that we’d have a chance to climb back into it. Now I didn’t think we’d climb back into it as quickly as we did (in the second half). It didn’t surprise me with this group because that’s who they’ve been all year. They understood that outside the first five minutes of the first half we were right there with them.”
*Ahead by five points with six minutes to play, the Buckeyes couldn’t hold the lead against the Zags. Down the stretch, though, Holtmann said he was mostly fine with his team’s defense.
“We put ourselves in a great position there,” he said. “We knew a lot was going to be left to play. They were probably going to make a run, given it’s in effect a home game for them. We over-helped on one three in the corner up five. That got them going back quickly. They also got an and-one. The game was pretty fast-paced. A five- or six-point lead with six minutes to go is nothing. Outside of the and-one and the over-help on the three, the other ones, we were really OK with them taking.
*Holtmann had some praise for how Kam Williams finished his career.
“He was really the difference for us in a lot of games,” he said. “As a coach you’re saying could I have gotten that out of him earlier in the season? Man was he good for us. We obviously don’t beat a really good South Dakota State team without his play, his aggressiveness. We all know with Kam’s size, he’s got some deficiencies defensively but he competed really hard defensively at the end of the season. We ran a lot of stuff for him later in the year. In the tournament we probably went to him as much as we went to Keita. Kaleb (Wesson) and Micah (Potter) and some other guys did a great job screening for him, getting him some open looks.”
*With Jae’Sean Tate, Andrew Dakich and Williams all out of eligibility and Bates-Diop facing a decision, Holtmann said leadership on next year’s team is an open question
“I think it’s wide open and that will be determined, I think that’s going to be a significant question mark and that’s fine,” he said. “That will probably be the case for a lot of teams that have the kind of turnover we’re going to have. That is yet to be determined with this team and with this group, for sure.”
*A submitted question was asked about getting some family time this offseason.
“If you study leadership nowadays, you understand that how you develop yourself in those times away from what you’re doing helps you be a better leader, helps you lead more effectively,” he said. “We want our staff to go and get away when they can and spend time with their family and get re-acquainted with everybody. That’s important.
“It’s very busy, but I do think in the offseason the stress level is different, which helps. I do want our guys to spend time with their families which is important. Lord knows we all need that in our lives. My wife’s been preaching it, and my waistline can attest to needing more balance.”