INDIANAPOLIS Chris Holtmann’s first phone call was to Andre Wesson.
Ohio State had just been through a morning as routine as possible given the circumstances. The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament was still on, and the Buckeyes had eaten a team breakfast and gone through a lengthy walk-through.
Then athletic director Gene Smith called Holtmann to tell him that the league had canceled the tournament.
Holtmann’s first thought went to his seniors, Wesson and walk-on Danny Hummer.
"Certainly it’s the hardest part," the coach said Thursday afternoon inside the team hotel. "They get it, they understand, but certainly it’s the hardest part."
The worst was yet to come. As a result of the concern over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, within six hours the season itself was over. Shortly before dinnertime, with the Buckeyes all headed their separate ways to spend time with family, the NCAA announced the cancellation of its tournament. It’s the first time the NCAA Tournament has not been played since its inception in 1939, and it spells the end of the road for this Ohio State team.
While speaking to reporters after the Big Ten’s announcement but before the NCAA’s, Wesson said he had started mentally preparing himself for the worst.
"Definitely," he said. "I didn’t expect all this to happen. With March Madness coming up, I wouldn’t be too excited if it was to end, but I’m just keeping my hopes up and hopefully they still have March Madness for sure.
"Obviously I knew the disease was big and it would affect a lot of things, but for it to affect all this, it’s been real crazy."
Once the Big Ten tournament was canceled, the plan was for Ohio State’s players to return to their family members before reuniting Sunday afternoon for a workout and to watch the NCAA selection show at Holtmann’s house.
Even as those plans were made in pencil, Holtmann expressed doubts that the NCAA Tournament would take place especially after the likes of Duke and Kansas had already released statements saying their sports teams would not be participating in any athletic events.
"It wouldn’t surprise me if that does begin a domino," Holtmann said. "We’re just trying not to be too premature, but I think we all see where this is headed."
Entering Thursday, Holtmann said he had been watching the events of the day build upon one another, from the Big Ten announcing that it was barring fans from attending the remaining days of the tournament to the NBA’s decision to postpone games after a player tested positive for the virus.
It left Holtmann with reservations about whether his players should even take the court to face Purdue on Thursday evening, he said, but ultimately he was going to lean on the team’s medical personnel.
He was receptive to the idea of holding the NCAA Tournament somewhere down the road, perhaps in May or June.
"I understand if it needs to be canceled, but I would love the idea of postponing it and giving our young men an opportunity and all the others," he said, citing teams such as Robert Morris and Rutgers, who were poised to make returns to the tournament after lengthy absences.
"You’d love to be able to see those teams play in what I think is the most suspenseful, greatest sporting event around."