D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney and freshmen have Ohio State thinking it can run more in men's basketball

Adam Jardy
Ohio State University head coach Chris Holtmann listens to questions during the Big Ten conference NCAA college basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/David Banks)

CHICAGO — Ohio State wasn’t even a week into preseason practice when four representatives took off for Big Ten media day.

Coach Chris Holtmann, senior Andre Wesson and juniors Kaleb Wesson and CJ Walker made the trip to Chicago for Wednesday’s media event, which began with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and then each of the 14 league coaches taking part in a televised press conference before breaking out for individual interviews.

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For roughly 50 minutes, each coach and his selected player representatives sat at large, circular tables for interview sessions with smaller groups. As Ohio State takes its first steps toward the unofficial season opener with an exhibition against Cedarville on October 30 and the regular-season opener November 6 at home against Cincinnati, it has done so without three injured players: junior Musa Jallow, sophomore Justin Ahrens and freshman E.J. Liddell. You can read more on that by clicking here.

“I think we’ve had some guys have some good days,” Holtmann said. “I think it’s exciting. We’ve not been at full strength, so we’ve not been able to see E.J. or Justin do anything live, or Musa. I think we’ve seen some growth out of our freshmen, which is exciting. I think the pace of play with our point guards has been noticeably (different). They’ve provided some things for us that are just a little bit different in terms of their ability to get from 0-60, and we need that. We need to be able to touch the paint and threaten the paint more than we did last year, but we’ve got such a long ways to go.

“I think our length is better. Now again, those guys that are longer, Alonzo (Gaffney) and Ibrahima (Diallo) along with our current guys, we’ve got to be able to get those guys ready to help us in games that will really matter. I think that’s going to take some time and some practice.”

Here’s what was said about the opening days of practice and what it all might mean for the upcoming season.

DJ Carton is turning heads

This will pronounce itself in a number of different ways, but the play of the freshman point guard figures to impact the Ohio State offense in multiple ways.

Going against him, you can see “just how explosive he is in the open court, being able to make plays and how he can get to the rim and finish at a high level,” Walker said. “He makes good decisions on and off the court. He’s a really good kid.”

Carton was voted preseason freshman of the year in the media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and The Athletic. Holtmann wasn’t ready to go there yet, but said he’s liked what he’s seen.

“I would hesitate to make any bold (predictions),” he said. “You never know. I’m really excited about him. He’s a talented kid, but there’s a lot of great freshmen in our league. I don’t think I’m in a position right now where I can (pick). I’m just glad he’s a Buckeye.”

One teammate cited Carton as the best dunker on the team.

Andre Wesson likes Liddell, Gaffney

Although Liddell hasn’t been able to do a lot yet, the Buckeyes got a feel for his abilities during summer workouts as well as the Kingdom Summer League. What he’s seen has Andre Wesson excited about the freshman.

“He’s definitely been working hard,” he said of Liddell. “He’s been hurt so he hasn’t been able to do much in practice lately, but from what we saw in the summer he’s going to come in and work hard. He’s real physical and athletic. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

Gaffney, meanwhile, presents a long and explosive body who will provide more depth and competition on the wing and in the paint.

“He’s a heck of a player, heck of a guy,” Wesson said. “He’s real energetic, real vocal, fun to be around. He’s a freak, really, how long he is, how athletic he is.”

No decision yet on redshirt for Diallo

Listed at 6-foot-10, 220 pounds on the official roster, Diallo arrived on campus as the tallest member of the roster. He also came to Ohio State as a work in progress who potentially could redshirt this season.

Holtmann said no decisions have been made yet on that, telling reporters to ask again in three weeks.

“Awesome kid,” he said. “Great length. He’s just got a ways to go as a big guy. Going to need patience.”

Multiple players have remarked that Diallo gets up and down the floor at a high rate for his size. Kaleb Wesson said he’s one of several reasons why the Buckeyes figure to push the ball more this season.

“You’ve got guys like D.J., who’s just taking off (in transition when he gets the ball),” he said. “The pace is different. There’s a lot more in transition. You’ve got guys like Zo running the floor like a deer, Ibrahima running the floor like a deer, I’m trying to get there.”

Walker said he’s been impressed with how receptive Diallo has been to being coached at a higher level than he’s accustomed to seeing.

“He’s learning a lot,” he said. “It’s totally different. He really wasn’t that exposed to AAU like we were, so for him to be coached and be able to adapt is really hard to do but he’s doing it well. He can block shots. He can rebound. He’s extremely athletic and fast getting up and down the floor and that helps what we do in our offense and our transition.”

What does it all mean?

In short, the biggest early takeaway seems to be that this team is better equipped to score in transition and get easy buckets than the one Ohio State fans watched last season.

“The early returns, I think we can (score more easy baskets),” Holtmann said. “I think that we’re going to be able to be better in transition. I would say based on the last three or four practices, we’ve got guys that have real opportunities in the open floor, particularly D.J. We knew that when we recruited him. He’s tremendous in the open court.”


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