Settling into offseason, Ohio State's Chris Holtmann not expecting major decisions soon

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann talks to his players during a timeout against Oral Roberts in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on March 19.

The location had not changed, but the view had.

Wednesday morning, as he had dozens of times throughout the prior men’s college basketball season, Chris Holtmann held a virtual news conference from inside his office at Value City Arena. On every other occasion, the Ohio State coach had been seated at his desk, with commemorative basketballs and various awards hanging behind him.

This time, in the first media availability since the abrupt end to the 2020-21 season at the hands of Oral Roberts, Holtmann turned the camera toward the far wall of his recently renovated office. Behind him was the wooden wall, the one with the Ohio State logo worked into it that is frequently the backdrop for photos with recruits while on visits.

It’s a new season.

“As gutting as that final game was, the challenge for me has been making sure our guys understand they did put themselves in position with really quality play throughout the season,” Holtmann said, referencing the first-round NCAA Tournament upset loss to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. “The majority of my thoughts will be on that final game and on that final moment, but I don’t want it to diminish some of the really quality things that were done last year.”

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If all goes well, nearly the entire roster that put forth that body of work could return. The Buckeyes have lost CJ Walker to the professional world and Musa Jallow to transfer, but are two NBA draft decisions away from otherwise emerging relatively unscathed from the offseason. First-team all-Big Ten forward E.J. Liddell and third-team all-league guard Duane Washington Jr. are both testing their draft stock, but neither is expected to make a final decision for at least a few more weeks.

Holtmann said he’s in regular communication with both players and their families. Both are keeping their eligibility intact while going through the process and will have until 10 days after the draft combine, which is schedule to take place June 21-27, to decide to return.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations with both families, regular conversations, and will continue to,” Holtmann said. “I’m confident that while the decision is not imminent for either guy, I don’t think, I think they’ll make a decision that they feel is best for them and I’m going to support them along the way.”

At this point, the Buckeyes have a full allotment of scholarships and aren’t recruiting anyone who could play next season. In addition to freshmen Malaki Branham and Kalen Etzler, they have signed a pair of transfers in Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Joey Brunk (Butler and Indiana).

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Holtmann will need to add a new assistant coach, however. After overseeing the Ohio State defense for the past four years, Terry Johnson took an assistant job last week at Purdue that will allow him to coach the team’s offense. Since the departure was made official, Holtmann said he’s received plenty of interest in the position.

As a result, he’s not in a major hurry to fill the job.

“I’m taking my time with it,” Holtmann said. “I don’t anticipate a decision anytime really soon, but I’m excited that it’s a position that people are excited about. I’m excited about the addition we could add and some of the candidates we’ve had conversations with.”

Ohio State ranked 82nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency last year, according to KenPom.com. That was its worst ranking during Holtmann’s four seasons, and while he shouldered some of the blame for the team’s struggles at that end of the court Holtmann also said responsibilities were due to change during this offseason prior to Johnson’s departure.

Assistant coach Jake Diebler will now oversee the defense while Ryan Pedon, who was a finalist for the Cincinnati head coaching job, will remain focused on offense after the Buckeyes finished fourth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, their best mark since 2011.

It’s all part of moving on, something Holtmann said he’s still trying to do.

“I feel really, really good about the health of our program,” he said. “I feel really good about where we’re at … but yet I recognize we have opportunities and steps in front of us.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

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