There’s undoubtedly been a time or two this season when Chris Holtmann has glanced at his unusable option on the bench.
On an Ohio State team working to curb a propensity to turn the ball over at an alarming rate, Holtmann has had to rely on one senior, one graduate transfer and two freshmen after inheriting a decimated roster when he was hired in June 2017. But last summer, he added an important piece to the backcourt puzzle when former Florida State guard CJ Walker opted to transfer into the program.
He just can’t help until next season. As he sits out to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Walker is running Ohio State’s scout team, preparing the Buckeyes as best he can for this season and biding his time.
“Coach Holtmann likes to get out in transition when it’s available, has really good sets, likes to get the best shots for the team,” Walker said Friday in his first official interview session since joining the program. “I most definitely could feel myself being involved with that. We’ve got a lot of great shooters and a good post, so I feel like I can really see myself fitting in and changing the game as well, being a leader for the team.”
During his two seasons with the Seminoles, Walker averaged 6.5 points and 1.9 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5. That latter mark would be second-best on this year’s Ohio State team, behind only graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods at 1.79.
Next year, he will be the most experienced ball-handler on a team that will return sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. while adding five-star freshman point guard DJ Carton.
“He’s had a good attitude,” Holtmann said of Walker. “I think he has missed playing and missed the competitive stuff, because he’s a really good competitor. We’ve needed him in practice as a guy who can push our guys, and that’s been tremendous. I think he’s learned our system, which has been really good.”
Walker said that sitting out has provided some ups and downs, but that the positives have prevailed. He’s learned not to take the game for granted, he said, and gotten a better feel for how demanding Holtmann can be on his point guards. It helps that he was recruited by Holtmann out of high school when Walker was playing for Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and Holtmann was coaching at Butler.
The Buckeyes added a commitment from Carton after Walker had already transferred in, but he said he’s excited to play with the freshman.
“I feel like that will be a really good combo, me and him being in the backcourt whether I’m playing the 1 or the 2 and him vice-versa,” he said. “I feel like he’ll bring a different type of energy to the team. That’s something we also need, somebody able to run the wing and be able to make shots and get out in transition.”
And as for if they have nicknames by which to differentiate which guard is in trouble when a coach yells at C.J. (Jackson) or CJ this season, Walker smiled at the thought.
“I don’t get in trouble,” he said. “I’m not the one playing. I’m not the one making bad plays. When he yells C.J., I’m not the first one to look.”