Even the best attempts at creating some normalcy can be waylaid these days.
For roughly three weeks, most of the Ohio State men’s basketball team has been on campus and slowly progressing toward resuming team activities. That’s when the first players began to trickle their way back to town, ending the three-month quarantine that had them spread out across the country and occasionally eating their parents out of house and home.
It’s been a measured return to campus for what is now the full roster, one featuring limited access to facilities, strict adherence to mask-wearing and even taped arrows on the floors of hallways within Value City Arena instructing them to stick to specific sides when walking. The measures are just a few of many designed to keep the Buckeyes as safe as possible while preparing for a season they hope will begin as scheduled.
And while Wednesday evening’s announcement that Ohio State is pausing voluntary workouts for all seven teams currently on campus felt ominous, it didn’t have much impact on what coach Chris Holtmann, who had spoken with The Dispatch for this story a few hours before the announcement, and his coaches are planning for the coming weeks.
"I think the only way to look at it is to prepare as if the season is going to go on as planned, understanding there could be some changes," Holtmann said Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a very fluid situation."
Once players arrived on campus, they were tested for COVID-19 and spent a week waiting on results and getting acclimated to the new environment. That was followed by a week of physical evaluations by the program’s training staff before being allowed limited access to the practice gym (one ball and one player per basket). Players can’t participate in individual skill workouts under coach supervision until July 20, giving them this time period to work out under the watch of strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks.
To get access to the weight room, a player must enter the facility while wearing a mask, have his temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire regarding any symptoms they might have experienced during the previous 24 hours. Once the previous group has departed the weight room and the entire place has been sprayed down and cleaned, they can enter in groups of three or four. If they want to work out in the practice gym afterward, they are limited to no more than seven players at a time. The locker room remains off limits.
"Guys are guys," Holtmann said. "Teams are going to want to get closer than six feet and dap each other up. All of those things have been an adjustment to all of us, but when I’ve been down there and those guys have not been working out and they’ve just been talking, I would say all of our guys have had a mask on. They’ve been really good about it."
The current pause in workouts is expected to last roughly a week, multiple sources have told The Dispatch. Reached for comment following the announcement, Holtmann said, "I was advised by our medical team that the university was temporarily shutting down workouts for all of our fall athletes that are on campus, but I expect them to resume here before long."
The return to campus has meant a return to regular rehab for a trio of players coming off of significant injuries. Musa Jallow (ankle), Justice Sueing (foot) and Seth Towns (knee) are all progressing toward hopefully returning to full action this fall. Neither is there yet, but Holtmann said Jallow and Sueing are a little further along when it comes to running and jumping.
"None of them are full-go right now," Holtmann said. "What’s their exact timeframe? I think it’s a little open-ended on all three. We’ll know more by the end of the summer."
Another unidentified player is dealing with a shoulder issue suffered while working out and playing during open gym sessions back home, Holtmann said.
The current pause in activities aside, the Buckeyes will remain on campus through August 5, at which point they will be sent home until fall semester begins later that month. Graduate transfer Abel Porter will leave early, Holtmann said, because he and his wife are expecting a baby girl.
Away from the arena, social interactions have been limited to small groups. A normal summer would see the players attending cookouts or pool parties at Holtmann’s house as well as other team-building activities. On a team with seven players in their fourth season or more of college basketball but with five new faces, building camaraderie is as important for this year’s roster as any other team in the country.
"It’s been great being able to see those guys interact," Holtmann said. "It’s just a really good vibe around our team. I know they were excited about being here."
Opportunities to do so are obviously limited. Holtmann puts together a summer series each year called "Beyond Hoops" that features guest speakers. This year, Clark Kellogg and former football player Joshua Perry have spoken to the team and a city councilman is scheduled to speak on the importance of becoming an active and informed voter. As a group, Holtmann said the Buckeyes have continued to have discussions around social and racial issues and that he has encouraged players to take ownership of any activities they feel are necessary to best express themselves.
It’s undeniably a lot to process.
"I feel confident that we’re going to have a season, yet I understand how fluid the situation is and I understand that it’s out of our control in many ways," Holtmann said. "Yes, I do feel confident that as of July 8, that we are. I could say I feel confident that there will be some things we’ll all have to adjust to.
"For us as a team, as a program, I think you have to prepare and plan as if it’s going to be a season that’s going to be begin for practice in late September and exhibition games in late October and real games in early November, and if we need to adjust we can adjust. I think that’s the way we’re trying to go about it."