As seasoned a veteran as this Ohio State roster can offer, Kyle Young spoke Wednesday on the status of the team midway through the preseason. A junior on a team with seven freshmen and sophomores, Young lauded the team’s chemistry and pointed to a need to keep grinding to be ready for the season.
To his left, sophomore guard Luther Muhammad then followed with a more-specific thought on what the team has demonstrated.
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“It’s real competitive,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys on the team that’s really, really competitive, and that’s helping us every day.”
The Buckeyes spoke before taking to the practice gym at the Schottenstein Center for practice No. 16 of the preseason and two weeks shy of their public exhibition game against Cedarville. First, they will play Louisville in a closed scrimmage Sunday, a test that coach Chris Holtmann welcomes as a chance to get better feedback on where his team stands.
>> Watch more: Chris Holtmann discusses practice and updates injuries
Holtmann said this team isn’t quite as far along as last year's was at this point.
“That can be attributed to a variety of reasons — overall youth and guys learning new stuff,” he said. “Defensively, we’re not quite there. Our ball-handling and decision-making, it’s just not quite there.
“Is it the byproduct of having seven freshmen and sophomores? I don’t know. Maybe it’s something I’m not doing well, but that’s just an honest assessment of where we’re at. We’ve got to continue to make strides.”
Injuries haven’t helped, although the Buckeyes are making progress. Sophomore Justin Ahrens and freshman E.J. Liddell are back in full-contact drills. Ahrens missed nearly the entire summer because of a back injury and Liddell missed the first two weeks of practice because of an undisclosed lower-leg injury.
Ahrens is still trying to regain the strength and weight lost while rehabbing, Holtmann said. He looked noticeably thinner during a portion of practice open to the media.
Liddell has been back in action for about a week and was singled out by Muhammad as having been particularly impressive.
“He’s been catching onto the plays fast, not really making many mess-ups, catching the ball, keeping it high,” the sophomore said. “That’s something I’ve noticed in the past week.”
Junior wing Musa Jallow’s status for the start of the season is in question as he recovers from an ankle injury. He’s back to noncontact drills, but Holtmann said there’s no timetable for when he might return to full practice.
Freshman Alonzo Gaffney did not participate in the practice session open to reporters and wasn’t mentioned by Holtmann during his news conference, but a team spokesman said the wing was getting some rest. He was dressed in full practice gear and spent some time riding a stationary bike.
While much of the conversation centered around Holtmann’s freshmen, he focused primarily on the likes of senior Andre Wesson — who has been the team’s most efficient three-point shooter so far — and juniors Kaleb Wesson, CJ Walker and Young.
“We’ll go as they take us,” Holtmann said. “I’m excited to see them continuing to grow in those important roles.”