After taking over a program with a roster in serious need of some stability, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and his assistants are progressing toward the college basketball axiom of getting old and staying old. With two commitments for the 2020 class and two more for 2021, the Buckeyes now have the ability to focus on younger recruits without neglecting the present.
“We’ll spend a lot of time on future classes,” Holtmann said Sept. 24 at Ohio State media day. “You’re always keeping an eye on the current class, but given our roster makeup right now we’ll spend a lot of time on future classes. I feel like we’ve made some inroads (there), but it’s a daily process.”Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
At no point was that more obvious than in Holtmann’s first year, 2017-18, when his 10-man roster of recruited scholarship players included a graduate transfer and two freshmen that he added after being hired in June. In order to hastily recruit what would be a four-man class for 2018-19 and then start building upon it, Holtmann and assistants Terry Johnson, Ryan Pedon and Mike Schrage had to hit the recruiting trail in a major way while also navigating their first season with the program.
In copies of the official recruiting logs filed by the staff and acquired by The Dispatch in a Freedom of Information Act request, the picture becomes clear. Among the four coaches allowed to travel, the Buckeyes made 69 recruiting trips totaling 159 days from the start of the open recruiting period in September 2017 until the end of the April 2018 evaluation period.
Holtmann was the busiest and used the resources provided by the university to frequently squeeze in trips on charter flights. He made 24 recruiting trips during the school year that accounted for 43 days on the road. Fifteen of those trips involved charter flights, including one particularly busy day that saw Holtmann visit three cities starting with a 10:51 a.m. flight to Albany, New York, and ending with a 36-minute flight home from Cleveland that landed at 10:21 p.m.
When possible, Holtmann flew commercial, such as when he took a seat in economy class for a March 25, 2018, flight to Gastonia, North Carolina, presumably to recruit graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods.
Along the way, the Buckeyes were putting together a run at a Big Ten title behind conference player of the year Keita Bates-Diop. After a 16-point win against No. 1 Michigan State, Holtmann said it was going to take a lot more on the recruiting trail to pull the Buckeyes to a level equal to the Spartans.
“You look at our recruiting and with our young classes, we’ve got a long ways to go to be near that level or to even put ourselves in that discussion,” he said that week. “We’ve got work to do in (the coming) years. Establishing a standard and a way we do things outside of the recruiting element is probably the most important thing to try to establish some consistency. Hopefully in year one we’re taking some baby steps toward that.”
Schrage was the busiest assistant for the Buckeyes and spent the most days on the road during that first season. His 18 recruiting trips totaled 55 days and included a flight to Columbia, South Carolina, on Dec. 21, before joining Ohio State in New Orleans the following day for a game against North Carolina as part of the CBSSports Classic.
Once the recruiting calendar began in mid-September, Pedon undertook a five-day sojourn across the country that began with a drive to Cincinnati on Sept. 10. He flew to Los Angeles the following day to head to nearby Chatsworth, where Duane Washington Jr. was playing his senior season. Then came a flight to Chicago, an overnight stay and a flight to Orlando, where he rented a car and drove to Gainesville before flying home. In all, Pedon made 13 recruiting trips totaling 28 days on the road during the school year.
Johnson made 14 trips totaling 33 days on the road, three of which involved significant drives on successive days. As the Buckeyes had a week in between games during finals in early December, Johnson drove to New Haven, Michigan, on Dec. 10, Center Grove, Indiana, the next day and then to Canton, Michigan, on Dec. 12.
As a result, the Buckeyes wound up building on the 2018 class by signing a top-15 national class in 2019 built on the backs of long drives and cross-country flights.
“Our staff was tireless and tremendous in their work ethic and it was some nasty recruiting battles,” Holtmann said when the class was signed. “We could sit here and talk about that for days, but we’re super excited about those three, and I give those players a lot of credit.”