Chris Holtmann angered by those with ‘antiquated thinking’ on mental health after Ohio State’s D.J. Carton takes leave of absence

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Ohio State freshman guard D.J. Carton listens to the national anthem prior to a Jan. 3 game against Wisconsin. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

A crucial win secured, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann opened comments after the game against Indiana on Saturday with a long message of gratitude for much of the team’s fan base.

Then, after he praised those who have sent messages of encouragement and support for freshman D.J. Carton, who took an indefinite leave of absence from the team while he deals with mental health issues, he had a few pointed words for those who think differently.

“For the rare few that tweeted at me (that) this is somehow a reflection of our program, a reflection on me personally, guilty,” he said. “Guilty. So be it. You can take your antiquated thinking somewhere else. There is nothing, nothing more important in our program than our players’ physical, mental health and overall growth. Nothing.”

Holtmann paused for a few seconds before continuing.

“And that will always be the case,” he said. “There’s not a game (that’s more important). There’s nothing. If it’s somehow a reflection (that we’re not running our program correctly), we all know that’s wrong. I really appreciate the overall overwhelming support for a young man in his pursuit of this. I know he does, too.”

Carton’s decision was announced Thursday night, four days after a strong performance at Northwestern when he scored 17 points, and not even 48 hours before the Buckeyes played the Hoosiers on Saturday at Value City Arena.

Holtmann said his first phone call was to athletic director Gene Smith. His first response: How can we help this young man?

“Our staff here, our medical staff, this university is comprehensive in its care of our players, physical and mental,” Holtmann said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I think we’re cutting edge in a lot of ways in terms of our staffing, our willingness to deal with our players’ issues. It’s a day and age where we see this more and more, particularly in this age group and particularly with student-athletes.”

Carton has returned to his hometown of Bettendorf, Iowa, where he took in his high school alma mater’s game Friday night. Among those who have expressed their support for Carton is Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love, who has publicly discussed his own mental-health struggles.

The news might have come as a surprise to Carton’s teammates, who learned of the decision shortly before practice Thursday, but the ongoing issues weren’t.

“You’ve got to do what’s best for you sometimes,” said junior guard CJ Walker, who had 14 points against Indiana. “That’s a serious thing that a lot of people go through. To do that shows his bravery and his courage. We came closer together to support him, and we played for our brothers.”

Holtmann’s opening statement lasted roughly two minutes and saw the coach deliver his thoughts with what felt like extra gravity.

“Listen: criticize our program, me, for whatever X and O you want to,” he said, again addressing those who have criticized Carton’s decision. “You’re entitled to that. If that’s your thinking, that’s fine. You’re entitled to it. I think this is idiotic thinking; that’s my opinion. If that’s your thinking, that’s fine. We’re guilty of it: We’re going to support this kid. We believe that’s the best thing to do. It makes me angry.”

There remains no timetable for Carton’s path, and Holtmann said he wouldn’t be at liberty to speculate when the freshman could return. He described the path as “uncharted territory” and said he’d be led and guided by the team’s medical staff as well as Smith.

Personally, Holtmann shared the fact that he sees a therapist and that he’s seen a close friend deal with mental-health issues that have helped inform his thinking on the topic. He used the word “brave” to describe Carton and his decision.

“I think the fact that he had played so well in recent stretches perhaps made people wonder: why now?” Holtmann said. “Listen, he’s a 19-year-old man going through all the things that come with being a highly recruited young man and expectations, and also the normal struggles that you and I have who are not in our players’ position. The day-to-day struggles we go through are real.”

As for those who cast doubt, Holtmann closed with this: “I can’t be more emphatic about that thinking and how damaging that can be, damaging to players, damaging to coaches, and we’re always going to be about the player. That’s the bottom line.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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