Chris Holtmann woke up with reservations about what he would be called upon to do later that day.
It was Thursday, March 12, and Ohio State was supposed to play Purdue that evening in Indianapolis as part of the Big Ten tournament. It was tenuous proposition, given that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had forced the NBA to suspend its season the night before and meant no fans would be permitted inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the Buckeyes game.
So while Holtmann wasn’t certain he should be coaching that night or that his players should be on the court, he got a text message that morning from former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer with a simple message.
“A text comes in from Urban and it says, ‘A lot going on in the world right now. Focus!” Holtmann said Wednesday on the Dan Dakich radio show. “I thought, that’s Urban right there. A ton of stuff going on in the world. It’s a good reminder of who that dude is, for sure.”
What happened next has been well-documented. The Big Ten tournament was canceled later that morning, with the NCAA Tournament following suit during the afternoon. Holtmann got word of the first cancelation while on a walk around downtown Indianapolis with some of his staff members and the latter while he was driving back to Columbus with his wife and daughter.
Since then, Holtmann said he’s been working from home and trying to anticipate a full workload whenever college basketball gets up and running again.
“We’re doing the normal stuff that we would do, end of year, it’s just all virtual,” he said. “Monday morning we had a virtual staff meeting with the entire staff talking through things, giving direction for what the rest of week would be. We’re doing a lot of FaceTime calls with our player and meetings with our players, end-of-the-year meetings, as well as a lot of FaceTime calls with recruits, as much as we can. Right now I’m recapping some of the games where we really struggled, so I’m looking at our Minnesota game here at home where we just didn’t play well. Normally that’s the stuff you’d do in May.
“As the calendar potentially changes and there’s some things added to your May and June schedule, you’d like to take advantage of these weeks when there’s not much you can do.”
Holtmann’s appearance on Dakich’s show came one day after the Buckeyes were crowned champions of a mock 2020 NCAA Tournament. In the simulated bracket, Ohio State beat Butler, Holtmann’s former program and a school he had to face seven games into his tenure with the Buckeyes as part of the PK80 Invitational in Portland.
It was an understandably emotional game for all parties, and Holtmann said Wednesday that he didn’t handle it particularly well.
“I was shook, man,” Holtmann said of that game, a 67-66 overtime loss to the Bulldogs. “I was absolutely shook. I was shook the whole game. It’s a miserable feeling. I was shook when we were up by 15 because those are guys you care about. I did a bad job because we got back and got beat by Clemson at home. I didn’t handle it very well. I did a bad job getting our team bouncing back in that moment.”
Ohio State ended the 2019-20 season with an 80-69 loss at Michigan State. Had the Buckeyes beaten the Boilermakers in their first-round Big Ten tournament game, they would have drawn a Friday evening rematch with the Spartans.
It was an opportunity Holtmann said he was hoping to have.
“You know you’re going to get the best version of that program late in the year,” he said of the Spartans. “I would’ve loved if we would’ve been able to beat Purdue in the Big Ten tournament we would’ve played Michigan State. I would’ve loved another opportunity, because I think they were playing great at the time and so were we.”