Chris Holtmann’s vision is a little skewed this week, the victim of a nasty eye infection the Ohio State men’s basketball coach contracted from who knows where.
My guess? He got it trying to peer into the future, specifically, into next season, when the Buckeyes could be a bit of a hot mess. Or maybe not? We all thought they’d trip over themselves last season, too, and they ended up finishing second in the Big Ten. Is more magic in the making?
More on that in a minute. First, the immediate future: Ohio State will travel to Spain next month for 10 extra days of practice and culture immersion. The trip is good work by Holtmann, who continues to push all the right buttons in getting the Buckeyes back to a place of national prominence.
In addition to traveling to Spain, which allows an especially young team — nine players are in their first or second year in the program — to develop chemistry in a concentrated environment, Ohio State just received a commitment from five-star point guard DJ Carton, who chose the Buckeyes over Indiana and Michigan.
Carton, rated the No. 2 point guard in the nation by 247Sports, is the second top-30 prospect to pledge to Ohio State in the past three months. Alonzo Gaffney, at the time a five-star small forward, committed in April.
Making a splash by signing two top recruits does not guarantee future recruiting success, but Holtmann believes programs can gain recruiting momentum. If true, Ohio State is trending up, and Holtmann sees no reason why the uptick can’t become permanent, based on how hard his assistants work on the recruiting trail.
“We have some dogs when it comes to recruiting,” he said, being complimentary toward their relentlessness.
But what of next season? What does 2018-19 look like with the Buckeyes needing to replace leading scorer and rebounder Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds), high-energy forward Jae’Sean Tate, shooting guard Kam Williams and steadying presence Andrew Dakich?
Holtmann, candid as ever, agreed it is fair to wonder how well the Buckeyes will perform during his second year in charge.
“We want to go in with optimism and don’t put any limitations on what we can be, but at the same time we recognize we have challenges we have to face,” he said.
For instance, will these Buckeyes get along as well as the close-knit group of last season? Holtmann said that a coach can build a sense of fraternity, but friendships among players must happen organically. To that end, he has instituted “Beyond Basketball,” a hoops version of the “Real Life Wednesdays” that Urban Meyer instituted for football. Holtmann considered implementing a similar “life experience” program two years ago during his final season at Butler, and was close to contacting Meyer for advice on how to create it, but the Ohio State job opened and he was able to go straight to the source.
To be sure, much of last season’s success was based on the simple reality that the Buckeyes liked each other, which is not always the case. Holtmann has had teams that did not mesh, and the result of such dysfunctional rosters is a lack of improvement from the beginning of the season to the end.
Senior point guard C.J. Jackson said that Holtmann has nurtured a family atmosphere by focusing on who a player is as much as on how he plays.
“Coach Holt has done a really good job of getting the right guys in here,” Jackson said.
It begins with people. And Holtmann has a healthy eye for recruiting good ones.