After 'interesting summer,' Ohio State's Chris Holtmann updates state of basketball roster

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

The roster is finally set. One week of summer workouts remains. The live, summer recruiting period has come to a close.

Finally, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann can start to figure out exactly what his 2021-22 team might look like. Tuesday morning, at a press conference inside Value City Arena just outside the practice gym, Holtmann recapped what he termed an “interesting summer” that saw the Buckeyes lose Duane Washington to the NBA draft, saw the return E.J. Liddell after considering the same path and saw the addition of Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell.

All the while, college coaches were able to host recruits for the first time since the pandemic as well as watch summer tournaments. They have been adapting to new rules regarding name, image and likeness and taking in the latest developments with conference realignment.

Interesting, indeed.

Appropriately enough, after an unprecedented 2020-21 campaign, Ohio State men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann said this offseason is one of the more interesting ones he's seen.

More:Ohio State basketball lands commitment from top-50 center Felix Okpara for 2022 class

“We couldn’t do a whole lot because we had some guys who were still hampered by a few injuries and then those guys (Liddell and Washington) being out,” Holtmann said. “What we did is a lot of individual, one-on-one skill work. We didn’t get into a lot of team stuff until July, which is a little bit later than we normally would.”

The skill workouts could prove particularly beneficial for Ohio State’s younger players, who did not get similar opportunities last year during the pandemic. It might also be pivotal for Liddell, a first-team All-Big Ten player in his second year who is switching positions for his junior season.

E.J. Liddell

Moving from center to power forward will require Liddell to improve his overall shooting and defensive versatility, two points NBA personnel emphasized to him as he went through the draft process.

“At the end of the day, it’s best for E.J. and his development,” Holtmann said. “For him (at power forward), he’s going to be playing against, in some cases, a smaller guy or a guy his size who can move a little better so that’s going to put a premium on his ball skills improving and adding some things to his game.”

Kalen Etzler

First-year forward Kalen Etzler will redshirt this season, Holtmann said, a possibility they had discussed during his recruitment. Facing a crowded, veteran depth chart in front of him, the 6-8 forward, who told The Dispatch on Sunday that he currently weighs about 180 pounds, will spend the year trying to add weight and strength.

“It just shows me I’ve got a lot to learn in these four or five years, potentially,” Etzler said Sunday evening when asked about his first weeks on campus. “Right now I’m just trying to listen to everything that they’re saying, try not to rush through anything.”

Injury updates

Sixth-year forward Seth Towns and fifth-year guard Jimmy Sotos have continued to work their way back from knee and shoulder injuries, and both are “just getting back to where they’re fully cleared,” Holtmann said. Sunday, second-year guard Meechie Johnson Jr. told The Dispatch he suffered a right tibia injury but was expecting to return to practice Monday. He had been seen in a walking boot in a photograph posted to the team’s social media accounts.

Subscribers only:With E.J. Liddell in, Duane Washington out, here are five thoughts on Ohio State's roster

Plans still in flux for football player J.T. Tuimoloau 

Further down the road, Ohio State could also add J.T. Tuimoloau, the 6-4, 277-pound, first-year defensive lineman, who is going to explore playing football and basketball while at Ohio State. Holtmann said the basketball coaches have watched film on Tuimoloau but haven’t yet seen him play in person. The basketball coaches had breakfast with Tuimoloau while he was on his official visit for football.

“Listen, I think we’re a ways away from him stepping onto a court,” Holtmann said. “Ryan (Day) and I will have conversations. I’m sure ultimately it will come down to what the young man and his family really want to do.”

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Coming up for the Buckeyes

After getting a few weeks away from campus, the Buckeyes will return in late August and resume workouts leading into fall practice. Then, with assistant coach Jake Diebler now serving as the de facto defensive coordinator, they will start focusing on improving a defense that statistically ranked as the least effective of Holtmann’s four years with the program.

Russell will graduate from The University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Aug. 6 and join his new teammates for the first time later that month.

And although college coaches can’t comment on recruits until they officially sign with a school, Holtmann hinted the Buckeyes might be adding a fifth member to their 2022 recruiting class after four-star center Felix Okapra committed Monday.

“Keep your Twitter fingers handy in the next couple days,” he said.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy