The reality that Ohio State finds itself in entering this men's basketball season seemed as realistic as an NCAA Tournament appearance when Chris Holtmann took over two summers ago.
Having been hired in June, Holtmann inherited a roster with nine recruited scholarship players that would soon drop to seven when Braxton Beverly requested his release from the program and Derek Funderburk was dismissed. The additions of a graduate transfer, a reclassifying high school junior and one more freshman would get that number to double digits.
As he surveyed his cobbled-together roster, one that would ultimately produce a run at a Big Ten title, a conference player of the year and an NCAA Tournament win, Holtmann predicted a future where the Buckeyes seldom, if ever, used all their available scholarships.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“Very rarely will we have 13 players on scholarship: 13 guys that are eligible to play on scholarship, because it’s too hard to keep that number happy. So it leads to turnover. I think once we feel really good about where we’re at in recruiting and where our roster is numbers-wise and once we feel like it’s really healthy, we may not have more than 10 or 11.”
That was June 23, 2017, two weeks after he took the Ohio State job. Now entering his third season with the program, Holtmann has built a roster using all 13 available scholarships, plus two walk-ons. And although Justice Sueing will sit out to satisfy NCAA rules after transferring from California, the reality is that the Buckeyes have depth the likes of which they haven’t had in years.
While it will create greater competition in practice, it also brings the potential for locker room issues. It’s why, as the season approaches, Holtmann will lay out expectations and roles for each player to try to guard against unreachable expectations.
With a closed scrimmage Sunday at Louisville, the Buckeyes just aren’t to that point of the preseason yet.
“We do have more guys this year just generally on our roster, so that’s more guys that expect to play,” Holtmann said Wednesday. “How collectively we handle the divvying up of playing time and role definition and all that kind of stuff I think remains to be seen. Is it something that as a coaching staff we’re very aware of? For sure.”
Kyle Young understands the balancing act that can come when playing time is sporadic. As a freshman, Young was the highest-rated player ever signed by Holtmann but saw only 8.6 minutes of playing time and did not appear in 10 of the team’s 35 games.
Then in two games against Michigan, Young played 22 and 21 minutes, respectively.
“I would just say find another way to help the team,” Young said when asked how he would counsel a teammate through a similar situation. “That might just be being more of a leader as you’re on the bench or doing something in the locker room, talking to someone, helping someone with something you see on defense. Just another way to help them transfer that good energy somewhere else and not be upset about it.”
After undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his right ankle Friday, junior Musa Jallow’s status for the season is uncertain. It’s possible he will take a medical redshirt for the season, slightly reducing the number of Buckeyes vying for playing time.
The ones who take Young’s advice and accept their roles without reservation will ultimately be the players to rise to the top of the fray.
“I don’t have a definite starting five in my head,” Holtmann said. “I just don’t at this point. It’s still pretty open-ended when it comes to that, but yeah, it will require a lot of one-on-one meetings, and the guys that embrace and star in their roles will be the guys you’ll see that’ll get better and better.”