CHICAGO — Preseason predictions are worth about as much as the paper they are printed on, but one from a year ago rang true for Ohio State men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann.
As he sat at Big Ten media day before the 2018-19 season, Holtmann pointed out that his second year after taking over a program had historically proved to be the most challenging. And although he ultimately reached the NCAA tournament and again won a game with the Buckeyes, his feeling was borne out through a trying season with the youngest team he’d ever coached.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Now, year three comes with significant expectations. The Buckeyes were picked to finish third in the preseason media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and the Athletic, and Wednesday’s Big Ten media day began with the announcement that junior Kaleb Wesson was one of three unanimous selections to the preseason all-conference team.
Holtmann came to Ohio State with a goal of leading the program back to relevancy. But, preseason praise aside, the Buckeyes aren't quite there.
“I think relevancy comes as much as anything from accomplishment,” Holtmann said. “I want to be relevant at the end of the year. I want it to be based on our accomplishment and not any other type of predictions or talk.”
Wesson was one of three players sent to represent the program before the media. He was joined by his brother, senior Andre Wesson, and Florida State transfer CJ Walker. A junior, Walker was sent despite not yet having seen a minute of game action after sitting out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
Walker said this Buckeyes team carries an unselfish attitude , and that will be needed with what is perceived to be a deep roster.
“You’ve got to sacrifice a lot, especially when you’re playing more than seven or eight guys,” he said. “When you’re playing that many, you can’t worry about yourself so much.
"Having that unselfish spirit means a lot to this team. That’s something that’s going to carry us a long way.”
Wednesday was just one day short of a week since the Buckeyes began official team practices for the upcoming season. Kaleb Wesson described the first days as being intense.
“I’ve tried to push our guys and play at a different pace than they’re used to, especially our freshmen who are stepping into a role where they’re going to have to produce,” Holtmann said. “I’m telling them it’s good to make mistakes now. It’s practice. Play at that different speed and you’ll adjust.”
Junior Musa Jallow, sophomore Justin Ahrens and freshman E.J. Liddell were all limited or unavailable when practice started, but all three are making progress toward getting onto the court and in full action.
“Justin and E.J. have had limited work in noncontact drills,” Holtmann said. “Musa Jallow is out and will remain out probably for certainly the next week or two. So obviously we want to get those guys back as quickly as we can. I believe that E.J. and Justin will begin to go full practice here in the next few days, as long as their test results come back positive.”
Ahrens is recovering from two herniated disks suffered while weightlifting during the summer, and Liddell and Jallow are dealing with undisclosed lower-leg injuries.
Once every player is healthy, Holtmann said he will start to have a better feel for roles and what to expect from each of the four freshmen. Until then, it’s all a bunch of projections.
And we all know what they say about preseason projections.