Men's basketball | 5 things we learned about Ohio State assistant coach Jake Diebler
Jake Diebler grew up playing basketball in Ohio for a dad who has coached within the state for nearly 40 years. After a playing career at Valparaiso and a coaching career that included a three-year stop at Ohio State as video coordinator, Diebler is back with the Buckeyes as an assistant coach on Chris Holtmann’s staff.
On Thursday, Diebler had his first news conference since being named to the position in mid-April. Throughout, he referenced the feelings of home, family and fit as he discussed taking this next step in his career.
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Here are five more things we learned about Diebler.
1. An unconventional career move paid off.
When his playing career came to a close, Diebler first spent a year as a student assistant under Bryce Drew at Valparaiso, then a year as director of basketball operations before moving into a full-time assistant position for two seasons.
After the 2012-13 season, Diebler left the Crusaders — and the bench — to become the video coordinator at Ohio State for coach Thad Matta. It was a position Diebler held for three seasons before Drew took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt and hired him back as a full-time assistant starting with the 2016-17 season.
The move from assistant to video coordinator might be widely viewed as a step backward in the coaching ranks, but Diebler didn’t see it that way.
“At the time, it probably was a little bit of a head-scratcher to a lot of people,” he said. “Bryce Drew gave me a chance to be on the court and, at the time, I think I was one of the, if not the, youngest assistant coach in the country. That’s a great opportunity, to be at your alma mater. That’s a big deal. For me, I’ve tried to make decisions not based on how can it can help my career advance but more how can it make me a better coach. The opportunity to work for Thad Matta, because I know how my brother (Jon, a former Ohio State player) feels about Thad Matta, what that opportunity can do for me personally, it felt like a no-brainer. Having an opportunity to work with Bryce Drew in the SEC at a school like Vanderbilt felt like a no-brainer.
“It wasn’t about going from video coordinator to assistant coach. It was more about the people.”
2. It was during his junior season at Valparaiso that Diebler realized he wanted to coach.
Growing up, Diebler was like many kids who took inspiration from their dads when it came to career aspirations. Given that his dad has been a high school coach for nearly the entirety of his son’s life, it would make sense that Diebler would have grown up knowing he wanted to be a coach.
That wasn’t the case.
“I tried to deny being a coach probably because I saw my dad as a coach,” he said. “At the end of the day, the most influential people in my life has always been coaches. That goes back to my dad, Homer Drew, Bryce Drew, Thad Matta. These people have had a profound impact on my life. I want to have that same impact on players. That’s why I coach. That’s my motivation for coaching. My life has been changed by coaches; I want to have the same impact on guys. I’ve been fortunate to have had access to that so far in my life.”
Then, things changed during his junior season.
“I knew then, it just kind of hit me and I was encouraged there by the staff when I played,” he said. “I had these huge aspirations to own my own business. That was where I felt like I wanted to be, but I had a heart change and here I am.”
3. He was intentional about paying attention to Ohio State while at Vanderbilt.
In addition to his ties to the state, Diebler’s wife, Jordyn, is an Ohio State alumna. Her family hails from central Ohio, and the Buckeyes were often on the television in the Diebler household while in Nashville, Tennessee.
For those reasons, among others, Diebler used the word “intentional” when describing how he kept tabs on the program while at Vanderbilt.
“Two reasons,” he said. “You try to watch what other people are doing, what makes them successful and coach Holtmann’s got an unbelievable track record. I’ve always admired and watched what he’s doing, trying to pick up things you can take with you wherever you’re at. We’re Buckeye fans. That’s the other piece of it. There’s times I come home and my wife’s got the Buckeyes on the Big Ten Network and, shoot, football Saturdays she’s trying to plan her day around watching the Buckeyes. I couldn’t get away from it.
“I think the combination of it being Ohio State and coach Holtmann and the success that he’s had, the reputation that he has within coaching circles, that’s why I was intentional about following the Buckeyes.”
4. The final season under Matta was tough to watch.
Diebler left Ohio State after the 2015-16 season, a year in which the Buckeyes went 21-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament. The next year, the Commodores went 19-16 and made the NCAA Tournament while the Buckeyes went 17-15 and did not participate in the postseason.
It ultimately helped cost Matta his job. In Nashville, Diebler was watching intently as Matta was fired and Holtmann hired from Butler. In his first season at Ohio State, Holtmann had success thanks in large part to Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, players Diebler had spent the previous three years with.
“At that point, we’re fans and we wanted Ohio State to be successful unless we were playing against them,” he said. “I love Thad and I’m very close to Thad to this day and it was hard to watch. It felt like some things out of his control, and that was hard to watch as a friend and as someone who considers him as a mentor. When coach Holtmann came in and you still had guys like JT and Keita who I have relationships with, it was, let’s get this thing going, and they did, really quickly. That was great to see. Part of that’s from a fan perspective, but I do think it was hard personally to see what coach Matta went through towards the end, but it was great to see also the quick turnaround.”
5. Relationships are key for Diebler.
While at Vanderbilt, Diebler was establishing a reputation as a strong recruiter. It’s a role he’ll be expected to expand upon at Ohio State, especially given that he’s replacing a veteran assistant in Mike Schrage who had extensive experience on both coasts.
When asked about his coaching strengths, Diebler tied his answer to recruiting.
“I think I’ve had an ability to relate to guys and relationship building, which I think is beneficial in recruiting and connecting with the current team,” he said. “That’s an area that I’ve excelled at so far in my coaching career and player development, those things I think I’ve done well but I love doing, too. I would lean more along those lines, relationship building, which is beneficial in recruiting and with the players I would think is a strength. Listen, my dad coached high school basketball for close to 40 years, so I’ve been fortunate enough to be around the game my whole life. To have an ability to see the game and understand the game at a high level is something that I had access to at a young age and a lot of people don’t get in a lifetime. I think that’s another area that I can add value.”
Diebler cited “relationship building” as the key to being an effective recruiter.
“I think in my experience, kids can see if you’re genuine and if you really believe in what you’re communicating,” he said. “I think I stick to those two things regardless. When I started here, it’s still about relationship building and believing in what you’re communicating. I think people can tell if you don’t really believe it and I think they can tell if you’re faking it. I just think that, for me, has helped make the transition smooth because I get to be who I am. I’m going from a situation that I believed in to another situation that I really believe in and that I can talk about from a very personal level too, which I think helps.”