Chris Holtmann considers his best player’s departure to be all but certain. Three other key underclassmen are leaving.
But as the Ohio State men’s basketball coach directs his program from home during this pandemic, he does not feel at all like a man whose program is in turmoil.
"I feel as good about this roster leading into the offseason as I’ve felt in any offseason," Holtmann said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. "I just feel really good about the young guys, our older guys, the leadership."
It will certainly be a new-look Buckeyes team in 2020-21, assuming the season isn’t jeopardized by the coronavirus. Andre Wesson was a senior last season, and his brother Kaleb is going through the NBA pre-draft process, such as it is, for the second year.
Holtmann doesn’t expect Kaleb Wesson, his leading scorer (14.0 points per game) and rebounder (9.3), to return.
"I believe he’s really committed to this process, as we expected that he would be," Holtmann said. "We fully support that. Kaleb had a tremendous year for us, as did his brother. Those two guys will be significant losses for us."
Holtmann said guard CJ Walker also will go through the draft process but is expected to return. But D.J. Carton, Luther Muhammad and Alonzo Gaffney have left the program.
Carton, who took a leave of absence during the season to deal with mental health issues, is in the transfer portal. Muhammad also decided to transfer and committed to Arizona State on Tuesday. Gaffney intends to pursue a professional career.
Departures are a fact of life in college basketball these days. Holtmann said Ohio State’s departures are on par with the rest of the Big Ten during his three years as Buckeyes coach and below the average number for power-conference programs in that time.
"It is certainly true that in a number of those situations, the coaches are of the opinion that it probably is best for both," Holtmann said of players leaving. "I’m not talking on any specific situation, but throughout my number of years that’s usually the case.
"In talking to coaches these last couple of weeks all over the country … that’s generally been the opinion, that they’ve felt that it’s time maybe to move on."
Holtmann said the departures were related to roster management.
"How do the pieces fit?" he said. "Sometimes it’s best moving forward for returning guys or younger guys to grow into increased roles. In order for them to grow into increased roles, sometimes there is some movement that has to take place."
Ohio State’s departures appear to be amicable.
"Those are terrific young men, and I think they’re going to do well wherever they go," Holtmann said.
It isn’t just subtraction for the Buckeyes. They are also getting an infusion of talent.
Ohio State will add four-star freshmen wing Eugene Brown III and post player Zed Key. Justice Sueing will be eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from California.
Potentially the biggest addition is Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns, a Northland graduate. Towns was the Ivy League Player of the Year as a sophomore before missing the past two seasons with knee injuries.
"Seth is obviously a really mature young man, having graduated from Harvard," Holtmann said. "That’s a tremendous accomplishment.
"His shooting provides a real opportunity and need for us. We all know he has to get to a place of full health, but provided that happens, we’re really excited for his addition the next couple of years."
Uncertainty is a fact of life these days, but Holtmann believes his program is on the right track even with the revolving-door roster. He believes the Buckeyes could have made a run in the NCAA Tournament if it hadn’t been canceled. Most projections had Ohio State as a No. 5 seed.
Now the key is to keep building as Holtmann enters his fourth season.
"We’ve had some consistency in our start here, and now how do we continue to grow it in a way where it can sustain itself and hopefully get to the next level?" he said. "That’s all we’re consumed with right now."