In the midst of Ohio State’s recent five-game losing streak, coach Chris Holtmann arrived home to hear the sobering update: His 8-year-old daughter, Nora, was worried something was wrong with Daddy.
Holtmann, who likes to say coaches take losing much harder than they enjoy winning, was not handling the losses well.
“There is some perspective required,” he said Monday during a news conference previewing Tuesday’s game at Michigan. “My wife told me after one of the games that I needed to go talk to my daughter, because she was very concerned about me. So I had to wake her up and tell her, ‘Hey, Daddy is going to be OK.’ We’re going to keep fighting at this thing and working at it and figure out how I can do better and put our guys in a better position to succeed.”
Holtmann can get visibly agitated during games, mostly when arguing officials’ calls, but away from the court he turns quiet when things are not going well.
“Some coaches when they go through a stretch like that will just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk,” he said. “For me, I get a little more introspective, and that probably created some concern in (Nora’s) mind.”
Holtmann faced a family identity issue. Who and how was he? Young Nora needed to know, because a consistent personality is important. We put people at ease when we act like ourselves. But what if we don’t know who we are?
That is the issue confusing Holtmann’s bigger family of Ohio State fans. Who are these Buckeyes? What is their identity? A get-out-and-run team? More focused on half-court efficiency? Is OSU’s offense geared around 6-foot-9 center Kaleb Wesson? (Yes). Or is this a perimeter team that seems most effective playing small ball? (At times).
See the dilemma? Ohio State knows what it wants to be — “We just want balance within our offense,” Holtmann said — but a series of circumstances have shredded its identity like a puppy with a slipper.
“We have a new team that has a lot of different roles, or increased roles, and it’s still evolving for our guys,” Holtmann said. “We’ve had to adjust to how we’re being played and it’s forced us to change a few things within the offense.”
The first half of the season, Ohio State relied on Wesson for most of its offense, not only as a scorer but as an excellent passer.
“We’re trying to play inside out instead of outside in,” freshman guard Luther Muhammad said. “Kaleb is a great player who can play inside. He’s a great passer from the post. So we try to get him the ball as much as possible.”
Great. And not so great. The transfer of 6-foot-9 backup center Micah Potter to Wisconsin is catching up with OSU, whose opponents have figured out that double-teaming Wesson works wonders. Without Wesson scoring down low, a premium is put on outside shooting, which has not been exceptional in Big Ten play. Even when the shooting has improved — the past two games showed more promise — Wesson’s propensity to find foul trouble remains, which forces the Buckeyes to play small ball. The results have been mixed; going small would not be Holtmann’s first choice, anyway.
Before the Buckeyes lost 6-foot-8 forward Kyle Young to a stress fracture Jan. 18, Holtmann was tinkering with a bigger five on the floor.
“We had spent a good week-and-a-half looking at things with a bigger lineup, but now we have to play smaller for large stretches of the game,” Holtmann said.
There you have it. The Buckeyes cannot be exactly who they want to be, which frustrates them and their fans. Patience, people. As the coach says, some perspective is required.