Five things we learned from Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann

Adam Jardy
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann speaks at a press conference during Big Ten NCAA college basketball media day Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

On Tuesday afternoon, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann met with reporters for roughly half an hour.

There was no pressing topic or breaking news to cover. The interview session was more of a catch-up to help bridge the gap between summer workouts and the start of fall practice, which is still a few weeks away.

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With that in mind, here are five takeaways from the session.

1. Roles, lineups and personnel decisions are still weeks away

As it turns out, Holtmann has seen your projections for his starting lineup and rotations. He has probably seen mine, too. And frankly, at this time of year, he has little use for them.

“I’m sure our fans have our starting lineup and our rotation down at this point,” he said. “I’m not quite there yet. I don’t think our coaching staff is quite there yet. I appreciate that. I love the fact that there’s that level of interest, but it’s really wide open at this point in terms of what our rotation’s going to look like.”

>> Video: Chris Holtmann provides offseason updates

That extends to things like conversations about making decisions to redshirt a player. Although Holtmann said there are multiple schools of thought on when to have those conversations, his belief is that now is not the time.

“A coach told me one time, ‘I always redshirt guys as soon as I look at our team and know they’re not going to play 8-12 minutes a game,’ ” Holtmann said. “For me, those are conversations that are a month and a half from now.”

2. But Kaleb Wesson is probably (certainly) going to start

“Kaleb looks great,” Holtmann said. “He’s at his lowest body composition that he’s been at since he’s been here. He is at his lowest weight that he’s been since he’s been here.”

Wesson is listed at 6 feet 9 and 270 pounds, but he was noticeably trimmer and more athletic during his appearances in the Kingdom Summer League. His size remains a big part of what makes him such a productive player, which requires somewhat of a line to walk as far as keeping fit but also strong. It’s something strength coach Quadrian Banks, trainer Jeff Deits and the nutrition staff have been focused on.

“He gets that part of his strength is his ability to be a big body and a big presence,” Holtmann said. “I think he understands that that’s an advantage for him at times. I’ve encouraged this for him. I think it’s a positive for him. I think if it looks like it’s getting to a point where it’s going to impact his effectiveness or looks like he’s getting too thin or wasting away, we’ll have that conversation with him. But he looks great right now. Really proud of Kaleb.”

The team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year, Wesson established himself as a go-to player for the Buckeyes. On a team with four freshmen seeking to replace guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods, that type of impact is going to be critical again this year.

“I think we have some guys who have proved (themselves),” Holtmann said. “A guy like Kaleb has proven that he’s capable of making that next step as a player in his ability. Now we’ve got to see if he can take the next step, but he’s clearly proven what he is capable of and I know he wants to take that next step but we also have a lot of unproven elements to our lineup, so that’s why it’s way too early to make any type of determinations on what our lineup is going to look like in any way.”

3. Interior depth behind Wesson is to be determined

Last season, the primary option when Wesson landed in foul trouble was either freshman Jaedon Ledee, who ultimately transferred, or sophomore Kyle Young, who is more suited for power forward.

At times, Andre Wesson filled that bill and logged minutes at center, particularly when Young was injured. Although the older Wesson is being counted on to continue to expand his game, it doesn’t sound like he will see significant minutes in the paint.

“At times last year did we have to use him as an emergency, you’re going to have to guard a 5? Yes,” Holtmann said. “Can we steer clear of that in most occasions? I think so, with a little more depth there. He really played well when he was able to just play a forward spot, because he can defend bigger guys and some bigger guys can have a hard time matching up with him.”

The obvious candidate is 7-foot freshman Ibrahima Diallo, but he arrived at campus in need of some development.

“What impact he’s going to have right now, it remains to be seen,” Holtmann said. “I think we took him understanding that a lot of work was going to have to take place between getting him here and then him being able to impact games at a high level. Do I expect that we’re going to see what he’s capable of early in the season? Sure, we’re going to have to with a lot of guys.

“I think we need to be careful with all of our freshmen on understanding that this is a real process of growth for them and it’s going to take some time. In particular with a big guy, it always takes longer.”

4. The freshmen are adjusting to a steep learning curve

Holtmann fielded questions specific to Carton and Diallo and never specifically discussed classmates Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell.

There are some shared experiences for all four, and that requires a lot of communication and patience.

“Sometimes as a coach we all forget we’re dealing with 18-, 19-year-olds for the most part who are making their own adjustments to the college experience,” Holtmann said. “I think all the freshmen at different times have had good moments throughout the summer and did some good things. They’re just getting into this second week of workouts. It’s too early to tell on where guys are at. Some freshmen are better shape than other freshmen. Some guys fit a little better in a certain position, but they’ve all done good things.”

That also means learning how to deal with failure.

“We try to normalize struggle as much as possible,” Holtmann said. “They’ll get into much more detail when we get into games, but certainly we’ve had some of those conversations that come up naturally when you see a young person who might hang his head because he’s experiencing something in the summer he hasn’t experienced in a while. Maybe he struggled in a particular practice or drill. Well, maybe it’s been a while since he’s probably struggled. Maybe three years, in some cases. You’re trying to normalize that process as much as possible and make them understand what their response needs to be.”

5. Holtmann doesn’t play paintball

It will be a few years before the Buckeyes take another summer foreign exhibition trip after visiting Spain last summer. It’s led to a few other ways to simulate the bonding such an experience helps produce, and that recently led the team to what was evidently a rousing time of playing paintball.

Holtmann, perhaps wisely, stayed out of the fray.

“I had a doctor’s appointment or else I’d have been the main target, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think they took it out on (Banks) a good bit, and Q returned the favor from what I understand. We’ve got some paintball fanatics. Our trainer Jeff Deits, if you could get paid to paintball, he might change professions.”

In other off-the-court athletic news, sophomore guard Luther Muhammad ran the mile Monday in 4:57, tying an unofficial program record.


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