Chris Holtmann inherited most of his clay from Thad Matta and molded it into a surprisingly successful Ohio State men’s basketball season. The Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten when most predicted they would finish outside the top 10.
What is the potter’s plan moving forward? Holtmann laid out his master design on Tuesday, the same day Ohio State received a 2019 class commitment from Alonzo Gaffney, a 6-foot-9, 190-pound power forward from northeast Ohio who is rated as the No. 1 prospect in the state and No. 18 in the nation by 247Sports.
Gaffney, a junior at Garfield Heights, is more than a blue-chip recruit. He is a blueprint recruit, the kind of player with which Holtmann plans to base the program. Gaffney can shoot, drive and defend. Think Keita Bates-Diop with more upside.
Or think Villanova, because Holtmann certainly is. If recruiting goes well, over the next five years the Buckeyes will begin to resemble the Wildcats, winners of two of the past three national championships.
“There are a lot of qualities (with Villanova) that I would hope our program would be similar to,” Holtmann said. “They are so simple, but (coach Jay Wright) has created a phenomenal culture. There is a lot to take from a program like that.”
A lot to unpack in those comments, too, beginning with how Villanova plays “new” basketball. The Wildcats recruit shooters — all five players on the floor must be able to knock down three-point shots — spread the floor with a mobile big man and play strong defense.
Compare that style to Virginia, which plays more of a methodical, old-school game that leads to lower scoring. The Cavaliers’ approach remains successful — they were the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — but also is susceptible to losing to hot-shooting teams that space the floor.
Such was the case in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, when Maryland Baltimore-County became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1.
Holtmann predicted Virginia will make the Final Four “in the next four years” but favors the Villanova or Michigan approach, which is similar to Villanova’s. The Wolverines advanced to the title game before losing to the Wildcats.
“In today’s game, what you think of with both of those teams is versatility,” Holtmann said. “Without getting too specific, versatility is what I would say I want this team to look like as it is built. I want to add as many versatile pieces as possible, offensively and defensively. Guys that can play multiple positions.”
Holtmann mentioned the Golden State Warriors as the ideal “five shooter” team, and LeBron James as the perfect player.
“LeBron is as much of a Swiss Army knife as anyone has ever been,” he said. “Everybody wants that. Sometimes your roster might take a different shape because there’s a guy you can’t pass on who doesn’t have quite those qualities, but if we’re going to put it together exactly how I want it, we’ll have as many multi-positional defensive and offensive players as possible.”
Versatility is essential to modern basketball, but Holtmann stressed that what makes Villanova’s program especially attractive is how much players improve over the course of their career. That explains why he wants the plan to include “older” Buckeyes, meaning few one-and-dones.
“Look at their roster; Jay has one McDonald’s All-American and another guy in the top 25, then they have a lot of good players that have developed — some into NBA players and some not, but they all have developed in that system.”
That’s the blueprint. Recruit and develop. Gaffney is another strong brick for the new build.