Two years ago Wednesday, Chris Holtmann was at a charity golf outing at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan when some fellow coaches broke decorum.
“I was about to hit a shot and heard some guys on the other hole yell over, ‘Hey, did you hear? What do you think about that, Chris?’ ” Holtmann said Wednesday afternoon. “I just kept my mouth shut and hit my ball.”
The big news being relayed to the Butler men’s basketball coach was that Ohio State had just fired its coach, Thad Matta, setting off a weeklong process that led to Holtmann rejecting, reconsidering and ultimately taking the Ohio State job. But on the 17th hole on June 5, 2017, though, Holtmann just put his head down and struck the ball.
Two years later, a tanned-looking Holtmann was settling into his second full summer on the job. All of the team’s returnees from a second straight team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament have arrived for summer workouts, plus freshman Ibrahima Diallo, who as an international student had to arrive early. The other three members of the 2019 class, plus California transfer wing Justice Sueing, will arrive in mid-June.
The on-campus group includes junior center Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State’s leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago, who tested the NBA draft waters before deciding to return to the Buckeyes. In the process, Wesson took part in workouts conducted by the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics.
The feedback received falls in line with what the Buckeyes have in mind for Wesson, Holtmann said.
“It’s all the things he’s heard: fitness, defending ball screens. Ball-screen defense has become a constant and he knows that. And he did make improvements in his mobility and ball-screen defense. They like the fact that his skill level is what it is. I think they’d like to see his turnovers go down a little bit more, his rebounding increase a little bit.
“Not one time did scoring come up.”
Both NBA teams have ties to the Buckeyes. Former Ohio State player and assistant coach Chris Jent is an assistant for the Hawks, while Holtmann is close with Celtics coach and former Butler coach Brad Stevens, but the workouts were earned by Wesson’s body of work and not facilitated by the Ohio State staff, Holtmann said.
Holtmann said his second workout, with the Celtics, was the better of the two. The decision to test himself was something Wesson’s coach said he fully supported.
“I’m like an angry parent when I hear people criticizing our players,” he said. “I’m not sure if he received criticism for going through the process, but I hope he didn’t, because it makes sense. Kaleb and I have talked about this: There are going to be some organizations that will not like his game. There’s going to be others that will value his skill. It just takes one, right? Both of those liked him for who he is as a player.”
Newly hired assistant coach Jake Diebler is assimilating into his role as Mike Schrage’s replacement, Holtmann said, and specific coaching duties are still being tweaked and discussed.
Holtmann said the Buckeyes should learn their opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge either Thursday or Friday and that otherwise the schedule is “mostly complete.”
With known games already against Cincinnati and Villanova at home, West Virginia in Cleveland and Kentucky in Las Vegas, Holtmann joked that one of his assistants suggested the team might as well schedule an exhibition against the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to fit in with its overall strength.
And how did he hit that golf ball on the 17th hole two years ago?
“Not very well,” he said.