A rough practice had just concluded and the Ohio State men’s basketball team was circled up at midcourt listening to coach Chris Holtmann.
After breaking the huddle, a basketball was requested from the managers waiting near the baseline. Twice, a ball was tossed to midcourt, where assistant coach Jake Diebler was scrutinizing them for the perfect one. Finally, Diebler selected one and took a few steps beyond halfcourt as the Buckeyes – and the fans in attendance as part of the annual Basketball Tipoff Event sponsored by The Sportsmanship Club of Columbus – looked on.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
A dribble or two, a running start and then the coach let his shot fly from midcourt at Value City Arena. And when it sunk right through the rim, it set off a celebration on the floor as Diebler’s players chased him around.
As it turns out, it was Diebler’s 33rd birthday, which earned him an opportunity for the glory.
“They get two chances to make a half-court shot,” Holtmann told the crowd. “Staff members, not players. If they make one of two, they get a little something extra on their desk the next morning. I’m going to be out a little cash (Tuesday) morning, so congrats to coach Diebler.”
Rumor has it that the going rate for a made birthday shot is around $100.
Here are other observations and notes from the event, which featured roughly 45 minutes of practice and a 20-minute Holtmann question-and-answer session with the crowd.
Buckeyes scrimmage each other
Wednesday, Ohio State will get to play someone else with fans watching when Division II foe Cedarville comes to Value City Arena for an exhibition game. Monday, the Buckeyes scrimmaged against themselves in both half- and full-court situations.
Here’s how the roster was divided up:
Scarlet team: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, Justice Sueing, Duane Washington Jr., Kaleb Wesson, Kyle Young
Gray team: Justin Ahrens, Ibrahima Diallo, E.J. Liddell, Luther Muhammad, CJ Walker, Andre Wesson
*Walker and Carton battled each other up and down the court on each possession and seemed to thrive on the challenge.
*Overall execution seemed to be lacking. It was practice No. 23 and one that saw the coaching staff put in a few new things that might have attributed to a high number of turnovers.
*Liddell scored in the paint and also swished a three-pointer.
*Kaleb Wesson’s improved physique was evident, and he typically would score when he got the ball on the block regardless of who was guarding him. Defensively, he looked quick when hedging on ball screens and helped force one turnover near the baseline. He was also vocal, at one point clarifying something Holtmann was explaining to make sure that his teammates understood.
*Ahrens seemed to swish every shot he attempted during positional shooting drills.
*Gaffney and Diallo, both freshman, struggled. Defensively, Gaffney was bullied out of the paint during one drill by sophomore walk-on Harrison Hookfin, and senior Andre Wesson likewise dominated him defensively and then easily scored against him in one-on-one drills.
Diallo, meanwhile, looked as advertised: tall, long and raw.
“Ibrahima Diallo, who grew up in Senegal, started playing when he was 13 and he’s got a ways to go but he is a tremendous kid,” Holtmann said. “He gets really frustrated and down on himself because he’s going against a really good player in Kaleb. He got knocked in the gut today that knocked his wind out. It’s rough, going against him every day, but we recruited him from a school in California. Mike Schrage told us about him. We’re excited about his overall development. He’s got a ways to go, but we’re really excited about his overall development.”
Following the scrimmaging, the two teams had to run some extra sprints. Standing on the baseline, players had to run to the opposite baseline and back twice in 21 seconds.
Muhammad won two of the sprints and Kaleb Wesson won another. Walker missed one of the sprints but then ran it at the end of practice, which led one fan to ask Holtmann why that happened.
“CJ Walker, he’s a great kid,” Holtmann said. “He actually, his leg bloodied up right as we were about to run. He had a ton of blood pouring down his leg from the scrimmage, so he just stepped out and had it taped up. I wish I had a more exciting answer for you, but that’s all I have.”
When Walker finished, he walked around the court and made sure to high-five each of his teammates.
Holtmann the DJ
Practice had concluded and the players were on the court for cool-down stretching when suddenly the strains of Eric Church’s “Some Of It” started to play inside the arena. That was then followed by “It’s Alright, It’s OK” by Shirley Caesar and Anthony Hamilton.
One fan asked Holtmann about the musical selections.
“About a week and a half ago, I came into practice and (strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks) normally is the one who has the music playing,” Holtmann said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m not feeling it. I think I want my own music,’ so I put a little pre- and post-practice playlist together. Do the players like it? No, they don’t. They really don’t. Actually, they like some of it. They will tell you they probably don’t like it.
“It’s an eclectic mix of gospel and country and really across the board. We’re adding to it. Occasionally they’ll request it if we don’t have it on. Most of the time they roll their eyes, but that’s OK. They can listen to what they want another time.”
Holtmann was asked a few different questions about the makeup of this year’s team.
In the closed scrimmage against Louisville played eight days prior, Holtmann said he learned that ‘I think when we are really locked in we can play really hard and well. I think we played well in the first half and yet we really struggled, our attention to detail struggled in the second half and part of that was Louisville playing better. When we really played hard and played together we were really good, but when we don’t do that we got exposed in a lot of ways.”
His biggest surprise about the team to this point is that ‘I think we’re a little deeper than we were last year. That’s a good thing.”
And on the strength of this team: “We have some versatility. We have more length than we had. I’m hoping our strength will be our defense.”
The Buckeyes have primarily been a man-to-man team under Holtmann and that doesn’t appear to be changing.
“We will probably play primarily man, but I don’t like giving away too many of my secrets so we might be able to sneak in some zone but we will primarily be a man-to-man team,” he said. “We were good defensively last year. The question is can we take that same approach and improve it?”