John Wooden was 46-14 (.767) his first two seasons at UCLA. Chris Holtmann is 35-10 (.778) in his second season with Ohio State.
I’m being tongue-in-cheek, of course. Holtmann has a long way to go to outshine the Wizard of Westwood, who finished his 27 seasons with the Bruins at 620-147 (.808) with 10 NCAA championships, including seven in a row from 1967 to ’73.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
But you have to start somewhere, and Holtmann’s start has been outstanding. He will never match Wooden — this is one time when “never say never” does not apply — but so far he is surpassing Wooden’s former team.
When Ohio State plays UCLA on Saturday afternoon in Chicago, the Buckeyes can brag of a 10-1 record, compared with 7-4 for the Bruins. Included in the results is an eight-point win by OSU against Cincinnati on Nov. 7 and a 29-point UCLA loss to the Bearcats on Wednesday.
Last season, Ohio State finished 25-9 with a six-point loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA finished 21-12 with a loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four in Dayton.
Really, I am just saying that the Buckeyes under Holtmann have been better than expected, especially this season when they are ranked No. 15 despite needing to retool after leading scorer Keita Bates-Diop left for the NBA and Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams graduated.
We will see how it goes this weekend when the Buckeyes join three of the bluest bloods in college basketball in the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center. Ohio State plays UCLA before Kentucky and North Carolina mix it up in the later game on Saturday.
Holtmann holds an emotional, if not direct, coaching connection to the Bruins, Wildcats and Tar Heels. He grew up in Kentucky in the shadow of Big Blue, coached at Gardner-Webb, located across the state from UNC and played his college basketball at Taylor University, a hop-skip from Purdue, where Wooden was a three-time consensus All-American at guard. Wooden also coached at Indiana State before taking the UCLA job in 1948.
Holtmann was only 3 in 1975 when Wooden won his final national championship at UCLA, but 20 years later the coaching legend’s words helped a recent graduate find answers.
“The first coaching book I ever read was (Wooden’s) ‘They Call Me Coach.’ It was the year between being a graduate assistant and having graduated, and I was trying to figure out what exactly I was going to do,” Holtmann said. “That book was instrumental in me wanting to coach, because of the lasting impact he made on his players.”
Years later, Holtmann asked Wooden to sign a copy of “The Pyramid of Success,” a book that lays out Wooden’s philosophies and techniques on winning.
“I had that hanging in my office,” Holtmann said. “Every coach in my generation took something from him.”
Among Wooden’s famous directives was “be quick but don’t hurry,” which is brilliant in its simplicity. The ability to effectively get the message across without lecturing made Wooden a great teacher. And some of the same stuff is evident in Holtmann, who is at his best when parsing details into easy-to-follow instructions.
That is the challenge of coaching, and it does not always go smoothly. Holtmann hinted that direction is pointless if the player does not reach the proper destination.
“Sometimes we expect that the player gets it, or knows how we want to play,” he said, adding that when it doesn’t happen the coach is to blame, because obviously it was taught incorrectly.
The logic has a Woodenesque ring to it. Just sayin’.